Kevin, Paula and daughter Nicole Murphy accept their conservation award from Madison Co. SWCD Chairman Doug Holdridge. (photo courtesy Troy Bishopp)
By Troy Bishopp
The Murphy Family Dairy Farm in Brookfield has been honored with the prestigious 37th annual Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) 2017 Conservation Farm of the Year.
Kevin, Paula and Nicole Murphy have persevered through the harsh climate, thin soils, lofty topography, a 2014 tornado and fickle milk prices to protect the headwaters of the Susquehanna River Watershed and ultimately the nationally treasured Chesapeake Bay. Recognizing their sheer, hard work and determination to farm while improving water quality and reducing soil erosion on the stoic hills has earned them this year’s award.
The SWCD welcomed area farmers, past recipients, town leaders, legislators, friends and conservation enthusiasts to a complimentary luncheon in celebration of the Murphy Farm’s accomplishments on April 7 at the White Eagle Conference Center in Hamilton.
“We applaud the opportunity to partner with such a hard-working family to improve the environmental resiliency of farmland while seeing conservation practices and systems help the farm save money and contribute to animal health,” said Madison County SWCD Chairman Doug Holdridge.
“We appreciate our working relationship with the conservation district, Natural Resources Conservation Service and their partners,” said Kevin. “The practices we installed have improved the lives of our cows, reduced runoff, produced more forage and have saved us money during the grazing season to the tune of 100 dollars per day. It’s a win-win situation.”
The young couple’s journey into agriculture hasn’t been an easy road. In 1999, before he met his wife, Kevin had a farm accident and broke his back. At that time, he was raising a few heifers on a farm and shoeing horses in New Berlin. After his recuperation and marriage to Paula in 2006, they “needed to get an easier job, so they picked dairy farming,” Kevin quipped.
The couple started out with 12 cows on a rented farm while also working off the farm, with Kevin farming and doing mechanical work and Paula being a nurse at New York State Veterans Home in Oxford, N.Y.
“I have to admit I really liked the cows and was an early influencer in our growth,” said Paula. After building their herd up to 135 head, they outgrew their rental farm and started looking for a place to buy. That exploration led them to a 200-acre farm in the Town of Brookfield that was “big enough and cheap enough to make a living and raise a family,” they said.
They moved to their hill in 2011 where their farm now consists of over 260 acres of owned and leased land dedicated to hay and management-intensive pasture production, with a small amount of silage corn production, to feed the 80-cow dairy and 75 head of replacement animals with the remaining production stored at the farm as baleage, ag-bag silage and dry hay. The Murphys ship their milk through the South New Berlin Cooperative and have garnered a “Super Milk” distinction for many years.
It wasn’t long after the move when they approached the conservation district about environmental concerns, since the farm had a DEC classified trout stream flowing through part of the farm. They also wanted to address cow health practices that mitigated mud and improved nutrient management. “The Murphys have been eager to improve their operation from day one. I’m impressed with their work ethic and commitment to the dairy industry,” said SWCD Manager Steve Lorraine.
The farm has utilized a collaborative approach in implementing common sense conservation practices that include: A comprehensive nutrient management plan, an extensive grazing system using high tensile and portable fencing with alternative watering points, an improved access road for cattle, a reinforced stream crossing, a milk-house waste system, a heavy use area and riparian buffers along the trout stream that meanders through the farmstead.
These measures have enhanced water quality throughout the property using the family’s resources and sweat equity along with program funding and technical assistance from the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, the New York State Environmental Protection Fund, the Natural Resources Conservation Service EQIP Program, The New York State Agricultural Environmental Management Program, The National Fish and Wildlife Service and The Upper Susquehanna Coalition.
“The success of the conservation projects illustrates the Murphy’s understanding of the intimate relationship we share with nature and how our actions, whether positive or negative, impact the environment. The Murphy family has led by example and we hope their passion, work-ethic and stewardship efforts will be embraced by the next generation of farmers,” said Agriculture Committee Chairman and Assemblyman Bill Magee from the 121st District.
“To survive up here, we don’t live beyond our means,” said Kevin. “Everything is attainable, it just depends how hard you want to work for it.”
For more information on conservation planning and implementation, give the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District a call at 315-824-9849 or madcoswcd.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.