COLUMN: The Grass Whisperer

Kevin Paula and Nicole Murphy are honored for their hard work and committment to conservation

Madison County SWCD honors Murphy family dairy farm

Submitted by Troy Bishopp

The late Frank Chesebro who inhabited the old Skaneateles Turnpike which ran from Crumb Hill off Route 20 in Hubbardsville into the Town of Brookfield, used to say he enjoyed seeing droves of cattle, turkeys and horse traffic come over “Round Top”, one of Madison County’s loftiest hills.  It’s been said, “It took tough folks to settle this tough hill country”.

Today, this sentiment aptly describes the Murphy Family Dairy Farm who have persevered through the harsh climate, thin soils, lofty topography, a 2014 tornado and fickle milk prices to protect the headwaters of the mighty 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; Kevin, Paula and Nicole Murphy were honored with the prestigious 37th annual Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District 2017 Conservation Farm of the Year.

Kevin, Paula and daughter Nicole accept their conservation award from Madison Co. SWCD Chairman, Doug Holdridge

The District 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 7th at the White Eagle Conference Center in Hamilton, N.Y.

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, Kevin quipped, “They needed to get an easier job, so they picked dairy farming”.  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, New York.

Kevin, Paula and daughter Nicole pose with one of their favorite cows, Eureka

“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 out grew 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 moved to their hill farm 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.

Paula Nicole and Kevin Murphy share their honor with Barbara and Bill Murphy

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 District 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 & 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 NYS Environmental Protection Fund, the Natural Resources Conservation Service EQIP Program, The NYS Agricultural Environmental Management Program, The National Fish and Wildlife Service and The Upper Susquehanna Coalition.

“The success of the conservation projects illustrates the Murphys’ 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.

“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.

“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.  We appreciate our working relationship with the conservation district, NRCS and their partners.  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”, said Murphy.

For more information on conservation planning and implementation, give the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District a call at (315) 824-9849 or www.madcoswcd.com

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