Delivering pizzas may not typically be thought of as a stepping-stone job for a young farmer, but Brad Weaver said each one of his various off-farm jobs helped better prepare him for his current role on Murphy Family Farms in Wyandot County, Ohio.

“I’ve always worked off the farm. In high school I had other jobs. I did some lawn mowing and in college I delivered pizzas for a while. I’ve been a mason tender, I worked at Kalmbach Feeds and then I started trucking. My dad owns an excavating company and I worked for him all through high school and college too,” Weaver said. “As I’ve moved up on the farm, I bought my own semi and now I continue to do some trucking. I think all of my off-farm jobs helped me out with what I’m doing now, whether it be personal relationships or just being able to talk to people in different circumstances. You can make good money delivering pizza, surprisingly — that was a lot of cash coming in. And sometimes you have jobs that make you want to study a little bit harder and work a little harder because you learn what you don’t want to do for a living. Being a mason tender and helping people lay block was a lot of hard work.”

All of those off-the-farm experiences complimented Weaver’s childhood and teenage years working with his uncle and grandfather on the farm whenever he could.

WATCH: Brad Weaver discusses his 2024 spring outlook in this Conservation Ag Update clip. 

“Growing up, I was always on the farm with my grandpa. I lived off the farm and it was a choice to go to the farm. I think that’s where my love of farming really comes from. I didn’t have to farm. I got to choose to go farm and growing up I was beside my grandpa every chance I got. I was driving a tractor as soon as I could reach the clutch,” he said. “While I was in college, I started out farming 17 acres. After my grandpa passed, I came home from college in 2011 and farmed with my uncle. I eventually bought the farm and took over in 2021. It’s always been a row crop operation raising corn, soybeans and wheat. My grandpa and uncle had some cattle on the farm. My uncle still has a couple head right now, but now we are a row-crop operation — corn, beans and wheat on about 10% of the acres every year. We do some trucking on the side in the winter to stay busy, but 90% of our operation is row crops.”

Now 34-year-old Weaver said his uncle Jerry Murphy was instrumental in facilitating his smooth transition from part-time farmer to full time farmer.

“My uncle always allowed me to be hands-on, which I’m very thankful for. When I was in my early 20s and just learning, he would go through the process with his teaching and he was always bringing me to things. That allowed a lot of the transition to be easier once I bought the farm and that first planting season was kind of seamless on the on the paper side because he had taught me how to do all of this stuff while I was coming up,” Weaver said. “In my early 20s, it was kind of a pain to go to those hands-on meetings. I would much rather have been out making money off the farm, but looking back now, that was great. Without that hands-on experience, my first 3 years of farming would not have been as easy or as fun as they were.”

Weaver also emphasized his broader support system as a part of the success of the farm.

“My grandpa and my uncle have set me up very well and I appreciate all that they’ve done for me to get me where I am today, but having an off-farm mentor to be able to talk to has been really helpful too. In my early 20s to now in my mid 30s, that person off the farm doesn’t know your finances. They don’t know what you’ve done on your operation and it can help to bounce ideas off of them that isn’t a financial decision or a family decision based on how you’ve done things over the last 20 or 30 years. It’s kind of nice to get that outside feedback from people who don’t know your day-to-day life or your financial position,” he said. “Being  a young farmer, your support system is huge. Farming is crazy. We spend a lot of money to try to make a little bit of money to make a living. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for my support system, whether it be my grandpa, my uncle and now my wife. You have to find somebody that understands your passion for agriculture and the craziness of the farm. That is very important.”

Weaver is the sixth generation of his family on the farm working, along with his wife, Rebecca, to set the stage for the next generation. One challenge Weaver sees moving forward for the 1,900-acre operation is the continued need to work with an always changing list of landowners. Weaver works with around 25 different landowners on 50 to 60 different fields.   

“There’s going to be a lot of ground changing hands in the next 5 to 10 years and when I look back, I think that same thing could have been said 5 or 10 years ago. We work with a lot of landlords with an average age probably in the mid 70s. A lot of it has been passed down from their parents to them to their kids and we’ve still been able to farm it,” Weaver said. “We have to continue moving forward with those landlord relationships. As that land transitions to the next generation, we want to make sure that we’re still part of that conversation. I always try to make sure I thank our landlords because I would not be here if it wasn’t for them. We want to make sure they know they’re part of our family farm and that they are appreciated.”

This means including wheat and other cover crops in some rotations based on landowner requests.

“We do the best that we can to make sure that our landlords are happy,” Weaver said. “Growing up there were a lot more handshake agreements and now we do a lot more 3- to 5-year contracts and some are yearly. Each contract is different and my wife tracks them on a spreadsheet now, which makes it a lot easier than just going off memory or having it written down on a piece of paper.”

Weaver’s generation has also seen the implementation of unprecedented technology to improve production and efficiency on the farm.

“We have a lot of small fields and automatic row shutoff is a saving grace for us. We got a new planter in 2014 with automatic row shutoff that has saved us more money than anything else on the farm because we’re not overlapping on the on the point rows. In 2022 we bought a sprayer and we have swath control on that. Chemicals aren’t cheap and that is a big savings. Y-Drops have only been around for a handful of years and with those our corn yields have gone up and our nitrogen needs have not changed,” Weaver said. “Auto-steer is also a must. We’ve even got an old John Deere 4640 that has auto-steer on it. The stress of following the marker is not there anymore and you can actually relax a little bit. You can make sure the planter is doing a better job, so that’s been a game changer. And moving forward, there’s a lot more we can do with strip-till and the planter when we make sure we’re on the right path.”

The farm uses a combination of various tillage practices, but strip-tilling has been successful in recent years and fits in well with cover crops and participation in the H2Ohio Program.  

“We started strip-tilling in 2019 when we got a whopping one day done before the rain started. Since then, we’ve had great success with that. Now, all the corn gets strip-tilled and we’re banding fertilizer underneath as well. That’s allowed us to save some application costs and we’re not working everything, which helps with our soil health,” Weaver said. “We use the SoilWarrior from Environmental Tillage Systems as a strip-tiller. It is all coulters and there’s no shanks on it, so we’re not bringing up rocks or mud in the spring. We try to strip in the fall. It has worked well the couple years doing that with nice dry falls. In the strips, we will variable-rate our P and K. If it doesn’t get fit in the spring, we can plant right on top of that strip, but I like to come back in the spring and add some AMS and some micros in that same strip before we plant on it. All dry fertilizer is applied through the strip and we like to run a two-pass system that way we get some nitrogen out in front for that corn. It allows us to not have to put so much nitrogen on Y-Dropping and use different forms of N. We do have some fertilizer on the 12-row planter and then we come back around the V8 timeframe and Y-Drop the last 100 or 120 pounds of N.

“In corn stalks going to soybeans, we like to rip that ground to get some dirt on those corn stalks to get those to break down. The ripper we use is the Case 875 to just try to bury that residue and get those stalks to breakdown. And on the ground that is not in wheat, we’ll try to get a cover crop on it. We try to get some rye out on the corn stalks before we rip it and then that comes up and makes it nice and green come springtime.”

With the 2024 growing season almost here, there are some daunting decisions ahead, but also plenty of reason for optimism.

“This would be the cheapest market we’ve had in my 4 years on my own, so that’s always a little bit concerning. But we planned for this and contract grain when we feel like we can make some money. We do a lot of break-even paperwork and I think there is still money to be made in this market,” he said. “Inputs are always a concern. That is part of the joy of farming. You spend all this money up front and you hope you can pay it back once harvest comes. The seed this year will be the most expensive we’ve ever planted, which is kind of disappointing because we do not have the most expensive corn we’ve ever sold. Fertilizer has come down, which has been nice. We have priced chicken litter to combat with the high price of commercial fertilizer and we’ll take the better of the two. Chicken litter doesn’t smell the best and there are some farms we can’t use it on, but anytime that we can save a couple dollars an acre and still get the same return on investment we’ll take it.”

The planning, hard work and investment all fit in with the farm and the family Weaver loves.

“It is really about the family aspect of it. Farming is a family event. I get to work with my dad a lot. I get to work with my wife, our boys, my cousin — it’s just nice that we can all work together as a family and that’s one of the things I’m proudest of. We don’t work Sundays unless we absolutely have to because I feel like it’s very important to find that balance between work and family. In my early 20s I would not have said that, but the family aspect is very important. It’s important to go to church on Sunday mornings and to have that family time just to relax and reset for a Monday morning and start all over again,” Weaver said. “Whether it is being good stewards of the land or making sure family comes first, there are core concepts that my uncle, my grandpa, my great grandpa, and my great-great grandpa put into effect that we that we still try to do today. That is all part of why I love farming.”