TENNESSEE FEATURED LANDOWNER
Cannon County, Tennessee
Raymond Cooper is an innovative, conservation-minded beef cattle farmer in central Tennessee who gets a lot out of his land because he places a high value on maintaining and building his natural resources. He loves to farm, but he also wants to make a decent living. He says conservation farming lets him do both.
Mr. Cooper was one of the first farmers in Tennessee to use the no-till crop method and also one of the first to practice rotational grazing more than 30 years ago. Though he no longer grows crops, he has installed several pipeline and water systems to implement a rotational grazing system for the hundred head of cattle he tends on his 300-acre farm. The system allows the farm to reduce its output cost significantly by using less fertilizer and harvesting less hay. He has done a tremendous job of maintaining a healthy grass base by following soil test recommendations, rotational grazing, and weed control. His grass has such a healthy base that even in drought and stressing weather conditions the grass remains lush and growing.
Mr. Cooper demonstrates how conservation and productivity go hand-in-hand. Because of his innovative watering system and more than three decades experience with rotational grazing, he has had to feed just 84 rolls of hay to his one hundred cows over the past six years. That is just 14 rolls per year, or .14 rolls of hay per head per year. His thinking outside the box has led to a profit every year. In comparison, he says when he ran a traditional hay/grazing operation with 140 cows, he rarely made a profit.
In addition to the grass health, Mr. Cooper pays special attention to protecting his farm's water resources. He has excluded cattle from a couple of small ponds and from a creek that runs through the southwest portion of his farm. The creek is of special interest because of the potential presence of the Barrens Topminnow, a threatened species found only in the spring-influenced streams of the Barrens Plateau in south-central Tennessee. Mr. Cooper has taken his cattle out of the stream and provided them fresh water from designated livestock watering facilities away from the threatened fish. The riparian area next to the stream is now able to regenerate naturally to better protect the integrity of the creek.
He has worked closely with the Cannon County District Conservationist on conservation planning. Mr. Cooper is a longtime enrollee in the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), and a portion of his farm is also part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). With coordination help from NRCS, Mr. Cooper has received cost share assistance from our partners at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to exclude cattle from the creek and create spring habitat areas for the Barrens Topminnow.
Mr. Cooper has worked purposely and diligently to protect the natural resources on his farm and he is skilled at sharing what he has learned. He hosts field days for farmers and others who want to learn how to save money on hay production, and he speaks eloquently to students and civic groups about the importance of agriculture and conservation. And Mr. Cooper's important work has not gone unnoticed. In May 2007, he received the Governor's Environmental Stewardship Award for Grazing Technology from Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen.