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Ready to Quit, Farmer Thrives on Soil Health

Posted by Ron Nichols on April 21, 2016 at 06:46 PM
Jonathan Cobb says that with a new focus on soil health, we got rid of all of the tillage equipment, and just dove in.

Jonathan Cobb says that with a new focus on soil health, we got rid of all of the tillage equipment, and just dove in.

Jonathan Cobb had made up his mind. He was leaving the farm.

“I was disillusioned with farming in general because we were just pushing long days and chasing acres and it didn’t seem like there was very much reward,” Cobb said. “That quality of life was not very good. My wife was having to work a lot of hours full time and really support the family. Twenty-five hundred acres really didn’t support two families, and we weren’t living extravagant lifestyles by any means.”

Then came the drought of 2011.

“I thought, maybe this is a sign from God – maybe we shouldn’t be farming. Maybe we should move on to something else,’” Cobb said. “I was looking into moving down to Austin, Texas and being involved in some urban farming setups.”

In time, he and his wife Kaylyn put their house on the market and prepared to move, abandoning a century-old tradition of Cobb family farming.

“By the end of the day I knew I was going to stay and be a part of the paradigm shift.”

--Jonathan Cobb, Texas farmer

Shortly after making that painful decision, Cobb’s father asked him to stop by and review some soil test results that had just arrived at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s office in Temple, Texas. But before he could complete the chore, Cobb found himself “trapped” in a soil health workshop featuring NRCS’ Ray Archuleta and Willie Durham.

Too polite to leave, he took a seat on the front row. Within minutes, Cobb was entranced by what he was hearing from the presenters and the presentation he was seeing with his own eyes.

What he heard that morning from the soil health presenters rekindled a passion and love that conventional agriculture had nearly extinguished.

"By the end of the day I knew I was going to stay and be a part of the paradigm shift.” Cobb said. Since that fateful day, the Cobb’s have downsized their farm from 2,500 acres to 450 and transitioned from row crops to cover crops with multi-species livestock grazing systems.

“We planted over a thousand acres of cover crops the very next year, got rid of all of the tillage equipment, and just dove in,” he says. 

Cobb admits his farming operation is still evolving, but improving soil health remains the central goal.

“One very high priority is to help with the soil and building up the soil and the carbon in the soil,” he says. “We will probably make thousands of mistakes but we’ll learn along the way.”

Whatever happens, he says, “The goal is to build the soil.”

While Cobb’s new business model hasn’t fully evolved, he and his family are already reaping some of the intrinsic rewards he fondly remembered as a child growing up on the farm – like enjoying the smell of blooming clover in the evening and watching the sun rise on a warm summer day.

“If we can make a living and stay here then we couldn’t ask for anything more,” he says.


Download Original File - Jonathan Cobb


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Tags: soil health, no till, cover crops, soils, farmers

categories Soil Health , Discover Conservation, Farmer & Rancher Stories

3 response(s) to "Ready to Quit, Farmer Thrives on Soil Health"

David Friedman says:

Kudos to NRCS and their staff. And give Ray a shout out, he is a great communicator, working hard to inform and educate landowners and all others. Worked with Ray in NJ and many other dedicated NRCS staff. Would really like to see take action in:
Adopting a soil health standard, along with providing cost share approved soil health practices. I believe if we are paying for drainage or irrigation practices they must be part of an overall soil health plan for the farm including cost sharing for soil health practices.
Please give congrats to Ray.
David Friedman
Retired Director
Ocean County Soil Conservation District

Eliza Greenman says:

USDA, it would be SO AWESOME if you were to attend this year's National FFA Convention with stories just like this. I have attended two years in a row and these sorts of innovative farmers who have managed to turn their operations around are sorely needed. I can help you navigate the registration process if you'd like.

ethan says:

Perfect blog. Really impressive. Thanks for sharing with us.

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