To each person, the word sustainability means something different. To Heritage Cooperative grower Brad Weaver, sustainability is not just a word, but a way of farming that allows him to leave the ground better than he found it, ensuring that it is productive for future generations. After graduating from The Ohio State University in 2011, Brad returned home to farm with his uncle, Jerry Murphy. Together, they run Murphy Family Farms, growing corn, soybeans and wheat in Wyandot County, OH. Their approach to sustainability, and more specifically, conservation agronomy, is unique in that not only are they bettering the soil, water and air, but they are doing it in a way that is proving beneficial to their bottom line.
No-till was something Murphy Family Farms had tried in the past, but it was when they started to plant cover crops a few years ago that the practices used together had a positive impact on yields, pushing them to use no-till on more acres continuously. “We’ve definitely been seeing benefits- yield increase is the big thing. The best beans we have ever raised have been no-till into a cover crop of rye,” Brad added.
Along with increased yields, Murphy Family Farms has seen other benefits from the combination of cover crops and no-till. “What we’ve found is our weeds have not been as bad where we’ve had rye. With having that cover there, our organic matter has stayed the same, and even increased in some spots, instead of decreasing like it does in the ground that is worked every year,” said Brad.
In addition to no-till and cover crops, Murphy Family Farms also utilizes variable rate technology (VRT) to apply nutrients as a way to combat the variability they see in their soils, along with decreasing input costs per acre. Through these changes and the learning curves they bring, agronomy expertise from Heritage Cooperative has been a huge part of their success. “Heritage has been great, especially when it comes to VRT. They have helped us with fertilizer recommendations, and we have really come a long way with them helping us to analyze our yields.”
In the summer of 2019, Brad and Jerry started strip-tilling with a SoilWarrior from Environmental Tillage Systems. They strip-tilled their wheat stubble and prepared planting ground that will be going to corn in 2020. The SoilWarrior allowed them to vary the rate and incorporate the fertilizer into the soil while creating a seed bed. Nutrients are placed where the crop has access to them. Strip tillage is yet another way that Murphy Family Farms does more with less and continues to increase their corn yields while being stewards of the land.
While the initial results have been strong, Brad and Jerry want to continue to increase the use of practices like no-till, strip-till, cover crops and VRT even more. “In the next 10 years, I would like to do more with less- I want us to be more efficient with what we have,” Brad adds, “We all need to do a better job with our land, even us, we’re starting to, but we can still do better.”