Farmer Mentor: Sonny Price

Sonny Price

Barrett Self, University of South Carolina

Farmer Mentor
Dillon, South Carolina

Sonny Price has been raising cotton near Dillion, South Carolina, for the past 40 years. Today he farms 6,500 acres of corn, wheat, cotton and soybeans. Sonny started to experiment with a no-till drill while looking for an alternative way to plant double crop soybeans after wheat. This success led him to use strip till to plant his cotton for several years. Sonny uses no-till planting on all his crops and now plants a variety of cover crops.

Soil Health Management System

Sonny’s soil health management system addresses all four of the soil health principles that include maximizing diversity, minimizing disturbance, keeping living roots growing and maintaining residue cover. Cover crops play a pivotal role as Sonny plants them after every cash crop.  The use of summer cover crop mixes after corn harvest and before planting fall wheat allows Sonny to take advantage of late summer growing. He has found that using a roller crimper to lay the cover crop down makes planting easier, controls weeds and reduces problems with voles. Sonny has been able to eliminate subsoiling by using no-till practices on all his crops, despite the use of subsoiling being a common practice in the coastal plain soils in Dillion County.

Reasons for adopting a soil health management system:

  • Was looking for ways to be more profitable;
  • Felt he was spending too much on fertilizer and not getting any benefits; and
  • Wanted to build drought resiliency in his soils.

Soil health benefits observed:

  • Cotton root system had more fibrous feeder roots than those of his neighbors’—the system was more than just a taproot;
  • Soil sampling results showed that lime was not needed in a field where he’d been using multi-species cover crops; and
  • Intensive soil sampling at multiple deeps in the profile indicated nutrient levels along with pH were stable or going up.

Tips for fellow producers on adopting a soil health management system:

  • Lay down cover crops with a roller crimper to make them easier to manage;
  • Use a summer cover crop mix after corn and before wheat to capture the sun’s energy to feed the soil biology, and to grow more roots and above ground biomass;
  • Improve soil health to capture more water in the soil profile that plants can utilize later in the growing season, offsetting the need for an irrigation system;
  • Use a fertilizer truck followed by a Phillips harrow to seed large acres of cover crops (6,500 acres);
  • Consider the impact that a pesticide will have on soil organisms prior to applying, particularly the long-term harm it may cause for a short-term benefit;
  • Use cover crops to tap into nutrients and water deeper in the soil profile; and
  • Use deep soil sampling to verify levels of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K).

Moving forward, Sonny will continue to improve his soil health management system by:

  • Continuing to monitor nutrients at various levels in the soil profile to determine how much fertilizer is really needed;
  • Continuing to increase soil organic matter and plant available water, drought proofing soils and using cover crops as a substitute to an irrigation system; and
  • Continuing to use cover crops to reduce his expenses, as there are too many benefits to not use them.