A conservation-tillage perfectionist, Barry Martin of Hawkinsville, Ga., improves his land year after year by using heavy rye cover crops.

As a result of his success as a cotton and peanut farmer, Martin has been selected as the Georgia winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Martin now joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 16 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

A farmer for 40 years, Martin farmed 800 acres last year, including 200 acres of rented land and 600 acres of owned land. His land includes 200 acres of timber, mostly planted to pines in non-irrigated corners of crop fields. He’s also planning to add additional longleaf pine trees.

In addition to cotton and peanuts, he grows corn, wheat and sorghum. His irrigated crops last year included 250 acres of cotton, 125 acres of peanuts, 100 acres of corn and 175 acres of wheat. He also grew 93 acres of sorghum and 40 acres of rye.

His per acre yields last year were impressive, about 1,250 pounds of lint for cotton, 5,900 pounds per acre for peanuts, 207 bushels per acre for corn, 60 bushels per acre for wheat, 40 bushels per acre for sorghum and 25 bushels per acre for rye.

“Some of my cotton last year yielded close to three bales per acre,” he says, “and my twin-row peanut yields were the highest I’ve ever produced.”

With conservation-tillage, Martin is able to farm mostly by himself. Two friends help during planting and harvesting. One is a former Deere mechanic and the other is a retired neighbor. Martin says local farmers also help each other when the need arises.

He designed and built a cover crop roller implement to manage the rye residue. He used 16-inch diameter steel well casing and attached it to the old frame of a six-row ripper-bedder. Metal bars welded to the well casing drum help crimp the rye stems. “By rolling rye, we help prevent weed germination,” he says. “Rolling helps control pigweeds resistant to glyphosate.”

Rolling alone won’t control all the weeds. “You still need a burndown herbicide,” he adds. “Last year, I sprayed first and then rolled. This year, I rolled first and then sprayed.”

Martin plants and subsoils in one trip, dropping the seed into a two- to three-inch-wide slot, while maintaining his cover crops on the soil between his crop rows.