This South Texas farm family is improving soil through reduced tillage.
Jon and Kelly Whatley produce cotton, corn and grain sorghum at J&K Whatley Farms in South Texas with conservation in mind.
Partnering with Mother Nature
Like three generations before him, Jon Whatley produces cattle, cotton, corn and grain sorghum on his family farm outside Odem, Texas. For the first 11 years he farmed, he followed the same dryland practices his ancestors did, until 2005 when a sandstorm nearly destroyed his crops.
That experience helped him realize he needed to work with Mother Nature and not against her. Since the sandstorm healthy soil has become the number one goal of Jon’s operation.
A sustainable way of doing things
Jon started using sustainable practices by integrating a hybrid method of no-till and conventional till, and now uses conservation strip tillage. “I till the strips where I plant to seed and in between the strips l leave the ground in its natural state to allow organic matter to build,” Jon said.
Jon and his family also implemented sustainable soil and water measures of controlled traffic farming, crop rotation, terraces, grassed waterways and surface roughening. They also brought sustainable practices over to their cow-calf operation.
“Our conservation practices put organic matter and nutrients back into the soil,” Jon said “Organic matter retains moisture, so it’s not lost to evaporation and erosion. As it decays, the matter releases nutrients that are available for the next plants. When I used to plow and disk, I was trying to get rid of organic matter because I thought it created issues. Now I want as much as I can in the soil.”
Hard work pays off
In recognition of their conservation work, the Texas State Soil and Water Conservation Board and the Association of Texas Soil and Water Conservation District awarded J&K Whatley Farms with the 2020 Conservation Farmer title.
An honor Texas Farm Credit believes they richly deserve. “The Whatleys are good-hearted people who have a passion for farming and strive to be good stewards of the land,” said Texas Farm Credit Branch Manager Jason Floyd.
Jon and Kelly have financed farmland and operating expenses with Texas Farm Credit since 2013. “We couldn’t do what we do without them,” said Kelly, who manages the farm’s bookkeeping. “When we’ve needed to buy different equipment, such as a vertical tillage tool, they’ve always been supportive.”
Looking ahead, the Whatleys believe farming with conservation in mind makes both good business and long-term sense. “Yes, we want healthy soil and clean water and air right now, and also for the next generation,” Kelly said. “But there’s a financial component, too. We’re saving money and fuel when we spend less time tilling on a tractor, which means less wear-and-tear on our equipment.”