By Donn H Cooper
Walking between his rows of vibrant cotton just south of Hawkinsville, you feel the ground crunch lightly as you step. It's corn and rye stubble — the remainder of last year's growth — giving underneath your feet. Although it hasn't rained in a few days, the soil is visibly moist.
What you can't see is just as intriguing. Across the granules of sand and tiny bits of clay lie an untold amount of AU Robin seeds of crimson clover. After sprouting between the rows of cotton in the fall, the clover will fix nitrogen in the soil. As it seeds out next spring, Martin will cut and mat it down and plant the next cash crop with one run of a tractor and a strip-till planter he modified himself.
The clover will add organic matter and mulch to the fields. The following fall it will germinate, and the cycle will start again.
Timely planting and cutting of cover crops and minimal cultivation are parts of a conservation tillage system at work. The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences recognized Martin as the 2012 Farmer of the Year because of the innovation on his farm and the leadership he's shown in the farming community.
"To me this is the most sustainable system we've got," said Ronnie Barentine, UGA Pulaski County Extension agent, who has collaborated with Martin to develop his on-farm systems for almost 17 years.