Now after five generations, Jerry and his brother, Mark, are proud to carry on their family’s farming tradition at Sun Prairie’s longest running family farm.
“I love what I do, it doesn’t really get better than this,” Bradley said from inside his combine on a pleasant October day.
Jerry represents the six south-central Wisconsin counties that make up Farm Bureau’s ‘District 2’ and is the Vice President on the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors. He understands the diversity of agriculture and remembers the days when his farm had dairy cows, chickens and pigs.
Their farm suffered a barn fire in 1977. The fire department saved the house and silos and the cattle were fortunately out in pasture. Yet the barn was completed destroyed. It was then the Bradleys decided to sell the herd and focus on crops. Since then they have increased crop acreage to 1,500 acres. Two-thirds of their acres produce corn and soybean seeds for Renk Seeds in Sun Prairie.
In 1990, Jerry first explored the option of no-till farming by renting a drill and switching to no-till soybeans and corn.
“No-till is always a challenge, but I’m up for the challenge,” Jerry said. “It is environmentally-friendly, saves soil moisture, and helps with wind, soil and water erosion. If you take care of the land, the land will be good to you.”
To keep the farm profitable, Jerry recalled his high school job of hauling peas and sweet corn for a Sun Prairie vegetable plant. He decided to look into adding a trucking component to the farm. In the late ‘70s the Bradleys began reaching out to companies and farmers to see if they needed help hauling their vegetables and crops. Today their trucks run year-round, hauling for Seneca Foods and other area companies and farmers. To give back to their community, every year the Bradley Farm supplies all of the trucking for the Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival during the third weekend of August. The annual festival draws over 100,000 people who consume 70 tons of sweet corn.
The Bradleys incorporated their farm in 1980 to protect themselves from liability issues and so they could access health insurance. They have also specialized their roles. Jerry takes care of the finances, planting, spraying and combining, while Mark takes care of the maintenance, and the shop, hauling and trucking schedule.
In the early 1990s Jerry became upset by the direction of a different farm organization and decided he needed to look for an option that bettered mainstream agriculture. He saw a newspaper article about an upcoming Dane County Farm Bureau picnic, attended to see what Farm Bureau was about and ended up becoming a member that day. Ever since he has eagerly taken on leadership roles to make sure farmers’ voices are heard and policies and actions are taken to better agriculture.
“I’m not sure we could farm without Farm Bureau,” Bradley said. “There are so many anti-agriculture groups that want us to stop. Without Farm Bureau’s voice, agriculture would look a lot different than it does now. With Farm Bureau, we are the 800-pound gorilla. We have a big voice and can make things happen.”
When not farming or serving for Farm Bureau, Jerry enjoys Badger football and attends every NCAA Final 4 men’s basketball tournament.
Story by Sheri Sutton. Original version appeared in the December/January 2010-11 issue of Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s Rural Route.