Having established a global reputation for showcasing the agronomic and environmental benefits of conservation tillage, Dr. John Bradley has been helping farmers improve their profitability and become better stewards of their land for over 40 years.
“I grew up on a diversified farm in Harden County, Tenn. We had cattle and grew a few row crops, so being around and involved with farming is all I’ve ever wanted to do,” says Bradley, who at 6-feet, 7-inches tall passed up a basketball scholarship at the University of Tennessee at Martin to join the U.S. Navy, serving from 1968 to 1972 as an aviation hydraulic specialist.
Wedding bells called after he returned from Vietnam and so did his desire to expand his role in agriculture. In 1977 he became the Extension leader in Lake County, Tenn. By 1980 he had earned a master’s degree in agriculture education from UT Knoxville. Three years later he accepted a research position in Milan, Tenn., that would define his career and make his name forever synonymous with a type of farming production system that would be adopted by farmers across the world.
Growth of the No-Till Field Day
“The Milan Experiment Station’s field day each year grew into so much more than just an opportunity to showcase research results and the latest farming technologies. The experiment station was an agricultural magnet that attracted thousands of farmers and non-farmers alike,” says Bradley.
Five-hundred people attended the first UT Milan No-Till Field Day in 1981. After Bradley took over the reins at the research station in 1983, people around Milan started taking notice of its activities. Soon he opened the floodgates of growth by inviting government service agencies, university researchers, allied agri-businesses and local, regional, and national media.
Bradley’s drive was relentless to promote no-till, the tools to make it work and the annual field day. He established a VIP “Who’s Who of Tennessee Agriculture” breakfast which was held next to the tranquil UT Milan Lake, and the field day soon became a must-attend event for Tennessee mayors, congressmen, senators, and governors. Vice President Al Gore attended in 1996 at Bradley’s personal request.
“Tennessee Gov. Ned McWherter once told me I could get more ag people together in one place at one time than he ever could,” laughs Bradley, whose affable nature is just one endearing quality of his persona.
From cotton fashion shows, skeet shoots, and golf tournaments, to antique tractor exhibits and high-profile country music concerts, Bradley’s infectious charisma and natural ability to galvanize local leaders and gather sponsors propelled the event’s success. The last year under his leadership, over 14,000 people walked through the gates.
After 14 years of sweat equity, basically building the UT Milan No-Till Field Day into a brand, Bradley was ready for another challenge and accepted a position with Monsanto as its conservation tillage specialist. He developed Centers of Excellence and test demonstration farms across the southern United States.
In 2007, while serving as the director of research at Agricenter International, he was approached by a company that recognized his non-stop drive for innovation and his ability to connect with farmers. FBSciences, a small, unique business spawned out of the reputation of a sister company’s success in the turfgrass management business, called Bradley.
“I really wasn’t aware of their CPPA (Complex Polymeric Polyhydroxy Acids)-based technologies before they called, but wanted to learn more after I was told their products were being used on fruits, vegetables, and over 40 percent of golf courses around the world,” says Bradley.
As a professional agronomist, he wanted to see crops being grown with the technology, so he flew out west, the area accounting for 50 percent of CPPA product sales. He talked to growers, getting first-hand impressions of the product’s efficacy. He rode around with their sales representatives for a week and read crop progress records to see how they were reacting biologically from the application of CPPA.
That week, he learned about the advantages the naturally derived plant growth enhancer delivered to crop health. Initially, FBSciences focused purely on field trials to validate what they knew, but soon recognized the need to understand and confirm the chemistry behind what made their products unique in the plant health arena.
“Their proprietary method for refining and concentrating natural organic matter is far beyond anything being done in this segment of the ag industry,” says Bradley, who as a professional agronomist understands the agronomic science behind research coming from the FBSciences laboratory just off the campus of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
Nutritional attributes like calcium and iron are key measurements in fruits and vegetables, but in commodity row crops, yield is the main priority with which farmers are concerned.
In 1994, the national soybean yield average was 41 bushels an acre. Since then, average yields have floated up and down from 45 bushels, cresting at just over 50 bushels an acre in 2016.
“While genetic traits have obviously improved weed and pest control in varieties, soybean yields have experienced only modest gains in the last 30 years. I think our products get overlooked at times even though there are no other products on the market that can deliver a 3-bushel yield increase like I’ve seen these products deliver,” says Bradley.
Bradley is forthright when talking to anyone about CPPA-based products, and he knows they are much more effective at boosting nutrient uptake on less-productive soils. Several years ago when conducting some international research trials for FBSciences, he saw first-hand how successful CPPA can be when used to enhance plant growth.
“We were working some land that was set up similar to an experiment station in the U.S. which allowed us to specifically measure product effectiveness, and the gains we made were really phenomenal,” says Bradley, who will soon begin working across the Southeast, targeting dealers and manufacturers who distribute liquid fertilizer to show them the advantage of incorporating Arcus FS (a water soluble “Foliar or Soil-applied” product) into liquid herbicides, foliar micronutrients, or even dry fertilizers used extensively across the Southeast.
CPPA is a family of naturally-occurring plant-derived compounds. The process FBSciences uses to create the CPPA changes the composition of the organic matter coming from the source material. Once introduced into the plant, their tests show, it changes the biological processes occurring in the plant — from germination, seedling development and chlorophyll production, to tolerance of stress and production of yield.
“These products remind me of an advertising slogan which stated that they don’t make the products you buy, they make the products you buy better. That’s exactly what CPPA-based technologies do and what I’ll be working to explain, especially now that Arcus FS and Arcus ST (for seed treatment) have official labels and EPA product registrations,” says Bradley.