Lick Skillet Farms uses innovative conservation for successful agriculture

A Tennessee Farm uses innovative conservation techniques to improve the soil and grow better forage and animals. They are able to do this with the help of University of Tennessee Extension.

Alex Miller is a professor for business classes at UT and runs Lick Skillet Farm with his family. They have 800 acres and nearly 800 animals, including beef cattle, swine and chickens.

“We’re basically, at this point, pasture-based proteins is sort of the product line. Pork, beef, and eggs. We’re looking to add meat birds,” Miller said. “Then a few years ago, the kids said they were interested in seeing the farm continue and be more sustainable, both environmentally and economically. At this point, we moved to pasture based and direct-to-consumer.”

At Lick Skillet they use the phrase “Appalachian Sustainable,” a belief they can raise great farm products and still respect Mother Earth. Lick Skillet is a century farm, purchased by the Millers in 1919. They have been working with UT Extension for the past two decades, and now specifically the biology behind soil fertility and health.

According to UT’s Forbes Walker, “What we’re actually dong is we’re using a variety of different technique, from fairly intensive management techniques, with a lot of herbicides and tillage, to more ecologically friendly ones. Some of our treatment include the use of fire.”

If a farm like Lick Skillet has healthy soil, they grow nutritious grass, and then animals graze on the good forage.

“It turns out that the animals that we raise in that kind of environment, taste good and they’re healthy. It’s better for the animals, better for the people, better for the earth,” Miller said.

The farm is also working with UTIA’s Pat Keyser. He is assisting the farm in converting forage from cool season grasses to native, warm season grasses. That gives animals something to eat if the cool grasses fade away from heat and dry weather in summer.

As Lick Skillet enters its second century of operation, its future might be tied to protecting the land, the soil, and the grass. Successful agriculture is based on a healthy environment.