Danny Murphy is the 2014 Mississippi Farmer of the Year

Danny Murphy has been selected as the Mississippi state winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award.

A national soybean leader, Danny Murphy of Canton, Miss., is a successful row crop farmer who gives back to the industry that has treated him so well. He has never been too busy to get involved in commodity and community organizations.

A farmer for 41 years, Murphy farms 1,600 acres, including 980 acres of rented land and 620 acres of owned land. Soybeans and corn are his major crops. His non-irrigated per acre yields last year were 42-bushel soybeans from 800 acres and 135-bushel corn from 800 acres.

As a result of his success as a soybean and corn farmer, Murphy has been selected as the Mississippi state winner of the 2014 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Murphy joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 14 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

He forward contracts about half of his expected soybean production, and also uses futures or options contracts. He uses grain bins to store additional beans for marketing during the winter or spring. He sells corn to poultry feed mills within 40-60 miles of his farm. “These mills provide good markets,” he says. “I forward contract 50-60% of my expected corn production, with the balance stored for sale at a better basis during the spring.”

He is a longtime no-till planter. And he has won National Corn Growers Association yield contests with first place in the 2006 state no-till class and first place in the state 2008 non-irrigated class.

Murphy was inspired by his grandfather who bought the home farm in 1944 and was told that a 60-acre field was only fit to “hold the world together.” Murphy says, “My grandfather didn’t accept that. Through cover crops, fertilization and conservation, that field is now one of our most productive.” His grandfather helped him with a 4-H cotton project, and was an early user of herbicides for cotton weed control.

“When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to farm,” says Murphy. He majored in agronomy at Mississippi State University and came back to farm in 1974. His brother Tommy joined the farm in 1977, and the brothers farmed with their father until his retirement in 1989.

Tommy is a partner in the farm, and has managed the farm while Danny has been away at American Soybean Association (ASA) meetings.

Danny has been fortunate to have two long-term farm employees. As these employees approach retirement, Danny anticipates that no-till planting will allow he and his brother to farm with little outside help.   

He adopted Roundup Ready varieties in 1996 and stopped cultivating cotton. He later adopted no-till planting to eliminate trips over the field and to reduce the equipment, labor and field time needed to grow his crops. He was inspired to use no-till from his work with ASA and the U.S. Soybean Export Council. This effort developed sustainability guidelines for U.S.-grown soybeans.

By 2013, about 99% of his crops were grown with no-till planting. “We now plow just a few acres that have ruts,” he adds. He also conserved soil by building terraces and using contour farming. Eventually, he switched from cotton to emphasize corn and soybeans.

Through his volunteer work with the American Soybean Association, he has been a national leader in shaping the current farm bill. Though it was late in passing, Murphy believes most farmers will be pleased with the farm bill. He says it requires more crop insurance than traditional safety net provisions, and says farmers will need to study their options under the new farm bill.

His plans for the future include continuing to refine his no-till practices, and adopting yield maps and variable rates for seed and other inputs. He is also seeing shifts in weed populations, and is keeping a close eye on managing any herbicide-resistant weeds that appear on his land.

Local leader, too

Locally, Murphy has been a leader. A longtime member of the Canton Lions Club, he served as its president in 1998 and 2008. At Thornton Chapel United Methodist Church, he has been a member since 1963 and its treasurer since 1976. At the Madison County USDA Farm Service Agency, he has been a committee member from 1980 until 1983 and from 2004 until 2010. He has also been a member of the Madison County Library board since 2005 and served as its president in 2009. He has been a board member and director of Madison County Cooperative since 2007, and has been a board member and president of Canton Academy.

At the state level, he has been a member of the Mississippi Soybean Association since 1984 and served as its president from 1990 through 1992. He has been a member of the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board from 1994 until 2005, and served as its chairman in 2001-2002. He has also been a member of the Mississippi Corn Promotion Board from 2006 through 2011, and served as its chairman from 2006 through 2008.  

Nationally, he has been especially active in the American Soybean Association. He first became involved with ASA when he applied for their DuPont Young Leader program.

He has served as an ASA director since 2005, and served on the organization’s Farm Bill Task Force from 2010 through 2014. He served as ASA’s Public Affairs Committee chairman in 2012. He has also represented the group in dealings with trade policy and international affairs. He served as treasurer of ASA, vice president in 2010, first vice president in 2012, president in 2013, and chairman in 2014.

He has been a director of the United States Soybean Export Council from 2008 through 2012, and served as the group’s treasurer from 2009 until 2011. He has also served on the USDA’s Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee from 2012 until 2014.

Danny and his wife Jo have two adult children, sons Matthew and Timothy. Matthew works as a computer programmer and Timothy works for the U.S. State Dept.

Jo has been active in the Madison County Homemakers Club from 1979 through 1998, and served as its president in 1991. She was a member of the Canton Chapter of the Mississippi Federation of Women’s Clubs. She has also been a board member of the Canton Friends of the Library. In addition, she served as a volunteer in a Madison County group that addressed poverty on the local scale. Jo has also been a volunteer for the Canton Christmas Celebration and for the Madison County Nursing Home.

Past winners and the big prize

Joe Street, associate director of the Mississippi State University Cooperative Extension Service, is state coordinator of the Farmer of the Year awards. Murphy was nominated for the award by Ernie Flint, regional Extension agronomist. Flint admires Murphy’s farming efficiency. “There’s no wasted effort in his farming,” says Flint.

As the Mississippi state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo award, Murphy will now receive a $2,500 cash award and an expense paid trip to the Sunbelt Expo from Swisher International of Jacksonville, Fla., a $500 gift certificate from the Southern States cooperative, the choice of either $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia vest from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

He is now eligible for the $15,000 cash award that will go to the overall winner. Other prizes for the overall winner include the use of a Massey Ferguson tractor for a year from Massey Ferguson North America, another $500 gift certificate and a Heritage gun safe from Southern States, the choice of another $1,000 in PhytoGen cottonseed or a second $500 donation to a designated charity from Dow AgroSciences, and a Columbia jacket from Ivey’s Outdoor and Farm Supply.

Swisher International, through its Swisher Sweets cigar brand, and the Sunbelt Expo are sponsoring the Southeastern Farmer of the Year awards for the 25th consecutive year. Swisher has contributed some $964,000 in cash awards and other honors to southeastern farmers since the award was initiated in 1990.

Previous state winners from Mississippi include:  Hugh Arant, Sr. of Ruleville, 1990; Bill Hawks of Hernando, 1991; Kenneth Hood of Gunnison, 1992; Tol Thomas of Cruger, 1993; Rick Parsons of Vance, 1994; Ed Hester of Benoit, 1995; Bill Harris of Benton, 1996; Robert Miller of Greenwood, 1997; Ted Kendall, III of Bolton, 1998; Wayne Bush of Schlater, 1999; William Tackett of Schlater, 2000; Willard Jack of Belzoni, 2001; Hugh Arant, Jr. of Ruleville, 2002; Rick Parsons of Vance, 2003; Sledge Taylor of Como, 2004; Laurance Carter of Rollins Fork, 2005;  Brooks Aycock of Belzoni, 2006;  Tom Robertson of Indianola, 2007; Gibb Steele III of Hollandale, 2008; Donald Gant of Merigold, 2009; Dan Batson of Perkinston, 2010; Scott Cannada of Edwards, 2011; Bill Spain of Booneville, 2012; and Abbott Myers of Dundee, 2013.

Mississippi has had three overall winners, Kenneth Hood of Gunnison in 1993, Ed Hester of Benoit in 1995 and Willard Jack of Belzoni in 2001.

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