two men standing near a cultipacker

Emery Davis (right) met Pat Murken in Story City to pick up the cultipacker recently. Murken used it on his farm for 19 years, and said it was time to pass it along. (Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Cultipacker gift helps beginning farmer get his start in small grains

September 23, 2021 | Bethany Baratta

For 19 years, the cultipacker has been an integral piece of equipment on the Murken farm near Story City to raise small grains.

“The cultipacker ensures that every seed is touched by dirt and is firmly up against dirt, but not compacted,” said Pat Murken. He and his wife, Jo, raised certified seed oats for 29 years in a niche market.

Ten years into their endeavor, Murken purchased the 1913 cultipacker at his grandpa’s sale in the 1960s.

“This machine cost me a total of $120 and it’s the best investment I’ve ever made,” he said.

 Pat used the cultipacker to help him achieve above average oat yields averaging 127 bushels per acre.  Now retired from the seed oat business, the Murkens didn’t have a use for the implement and chose to give it to a beginning farmer as a gift rather than sell it. The cultipacker is in the hands of its new owner, Emery Davis who farms near Crawfordsville.

Murken gifted the young farmer the well-loved piece of equipment recently. It’s modified from the horse-drawn version he bought from his grandfather; Murken works at John Deere and likes tinkering in his farm shop.

“This will be my first piece of equipment that I’ll own on my own,” said Davis, who is in his first year of renting a tract of land on his family’s 140-year-old farm this year. He farms with the help of his dad and plans to use the cultipacker this fall when he plants cereal rye for cover crop seed.

Field of dreams

Murken and Davis credit Lydia English, Strategic Initiatives Coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa, for bringing them together.

“I told Lydia that I wanted to give this (cultipacker) to a young farmer,” Murken said. “I didn’t want to see it end up in the scrap yard.”

Connecting the two farmers was perfect, English said.

“Through my work I knew Emery was eager to learn about small grains and Pat was passionate about teaching people about small grains, so it made perfect sense to connect them,” English said.

It fits the models of both the Iowa Soybean Association and Practical Farmers of Iowa, English noted.

“That’s what we want to see on the landscape,” English said. “Farmers learning from each other and sharing their experiences about resilient cropping systems.”

Plus, we love seeing more small grains get added to the landscape, English said.

The combination of cover crops and small grains in the soybean and corn rotation has benefited Murken’s farm.

“I planted cover crops 12 years ago before they were popular,” Murken said. “Since then, our compaction in our fields is down 25%. Nitrogen usage is down 25 pounds an acre; we keep using less fertilizer.”

Davis shares Murken’s passion for conservation.

Davis is the soil health coordinator for the Indian Creek Soil Health Partnership located in Linn County. His full-time job he promotes cover crops and other practices which benefit water quality. Then he comes home to the farm and practices what he preaches.

In the past 5 years, his family’s farm has incorporated no-till, cover crops, and prairie filter strips, seeding the most highly erodible fields to prairie. He hopes to install a saturated buffer on the farm. With the donated cultipacker, he’ll further diversify the family’s cropping system by adding cereal rye grown for cover crop seed to the corn/ soybean rotation.

“Once we get the rye harvested, we have the flexibility to get a diverse cover crop in early so hopefully we’ll be doing something like clovers for nitrogen fixation,” Davis said. “And then next year’s corn crop we can think about cutting nitrogen (usage) .”

Murken said he was inspired by Davis’ story, and the recent Major League Baseball game hosted near the Field of Dreams movie site near Dyersville.

“Everybody deserves to have his or her field of dreams, and I hope it really works out for you,” Murken told the beginning farmer.

Equipped with everything from the grease inserts to the prototype wood blocks and lessons from Murken on how to successfully use the machine, Davis is well on his way.

“We haven’t had small grains on the farm for at least 30 years,” Davis said. “With this cultipacker and great resources and information from PFI, l’m excited about the opportunities ahead.”