Farmer Annie Dee is always thinking ahead.

“With the world population expected to be nine to ten billion people by the year 2050, we need to produce more food on the acres we are now utilizing. I believe the key to successfully producing enough food will be improved soil health, which will include using no-till and cover crops to feed the soil, which in turn feeds the people.”

The soybean grower and United Soybean Board (USB) director from Aliceville, Alabama, was honored for her sustainability efforts, particularly no-till, in a ceremony on January 11 at the 26th Annual No-Tillage Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The 22nd Class of No-Till Innovators was honored for their research, product development and field management practices that have encouraged no-till adoption and advanced soil health principles.

Two individuals, one company, and one no-till association were recognized as the 22nd Class of No-Till Innovators for leading the adoption and advancement of no-till. Sponsored by Syngenta and No-Till Farmer magazine, the program honors farmers, researchers, businesses, and organizations for their ongoing commitment and contributions toward advancing no-till farming management.

“It was the 22nd time that this award was given,” says Dee, “and I am the first female to receive the award.”

Dee’s commitment to no-till goes back more than 25 years.

“We tried no-till in the early 1990s,” she remembers, “but were initially not able to control the weeds, which was very difficult. Once we started using Round-up Ready crops, we were able to control the weeds throughout the growing season and, over time, have been able to increase our yields. We are able to use fewer and less harmful chemicals to control our weeds.”

Dee River Ranch is a 10,000-acre operation, with soybeans, corn, and wheat. Dee runs her farm with her brother and twin sons.

“All 10,000 acres are no-tilled,” says Dee. “We are row cropping about 4,000 acres and all of those acres are no-till, of course. We run cattle on about 4,000 different acres and we have about 2,000 different acres in pine trees or native grasses.

“If during the growing season we have to get on the land to spray or harvest when the soil is too wet and we make ruts in the field, we will have to rework the field to get the ruts back out. That is the only kind of tillage work that we do on our farm.

“We have learned to be sustainable using no-till and cover crops along with irrigation,” she continues. “Using no-till helps build the organic matter in the soil and reduces erosion. Some of the benefits to building the organic matter are increasing the water holding capacity, improving the soil structure, improving the microbial activity in the soil, increasing earthworm populations, improving the soil tilths, and decreasing equipment, energy, and manpower hours by reducing trips across the field,” Dee explains.

“Each one percent increase in soil organic matter increases the water holding capacity of the soil four percent. This can reduce the amount of irrigation needed to produce the crop. Stopping erosion will improve water and air quality,” she states. “We are using a five or six cover crop cocktail consisting of radishes, turnips, winter peas, oats, clover, and sunflowers. This diverse multi-crop species mixture puts different types of roots at different soil depths, increases type and number of soil microbes available and improves the overall soil health.”
Dee says that soybean farmers’ sustainability practices send an important message for U.S. soy’s international customers.

“Using no-till and cover crops protects our natural resources, protects the environment, and makes me a more sustainable soybean producer, which in the long run will help enable me to continue to provide you with a high quality product,” she states.