by Heather Duncan
John and Virginia Marple own and operate a feeder calf operation in Berkeley Springs. They were selected by the Morgan County supervisors as the 2021 Morgan County Conservation Farm.
This is the first leg of the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year program. A county winner is selected to compete in the district contest which takes a winning farm from each county located within the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District (EPCD).
The district winner then competes in the area contest which consists of six other conservation districts. The winner of the area competition will then go to the state competition for the coveted title of WV Conservation Farm of the Year. Historically, $1,000 and use of a customized tractor are presented to the award winners.
The Marples bought the farm in 1981 from John’s parents. His parents had bought the 125-acre farm in the 1960s. While regenerative farming has been practiced since the start of agriculture, it is becoming more widely known and practiced by small- and large-scale farmers and ranchers.
The Marples have used these foundations and practices since the beginning. Due to their setup, no farm equipment is owned or needed. This drastically cuts down on input costs, soil compaction, and general wear and tear on the ground. The cattle can utilize the forage provided to them year-round without needing round hay rolls or other feed supplements.
In the 1990s a forestry plan was completed to properly manage the 100 acres of timberland on the farm. Wind blocks using trees are also implemented on the property.
USDA-NRCS was able to implement two conservation plans to include 11,482 ft. of fence, 800 sq. ft. of heavy use protection, 1,465 ft. of water pipeline, and four watering facilities, well and pumping plant. This improvement led to 25.1 acres of prescribed grazing and forage bio-mass plantings for cattle to be utilized.
This improvement to management lowered environmental impact while increasing productivity of the land and cattle while increasing the conservation and stewardship of the land.
The cattle are rotated through 2.5 acre pastures every three days. Depending on the pastures forage quality the rotation can be spread out to four to five days. John was able to build one pond himself to slow water runoff from the property. All four ponds on the property are fenced from the cattle and one pond is stocked with fish.
The deer overpopulation is controlled through prescribed hunting. Cattle are the only livestock due to the threat of fox and coyote in the area as smaller livestock would not survive. The Marples understand the balance of a healthy ecosystem and raising livestock that are best suited for their situation.
In 2013 the Marples managed five head of cattle and are now able to comfortably manage 14 head due to the pasture management improvements. There is very limited spraying of chemicals on the farm which lead to less potential chemical runoff, but also reduces disposal issues of used containers and unused chemicals. Medicated minerals and insecticide ear tags are used to manage flies in the spring-fall months.
Virginia perhaps summed up their operation best.
“Conservation is key to our operation. We have always worked to keep as much soil on our farm as possible, and continuously work to keep it from washing away. John built two ponds, his father one, to slow down water and soil loss. Plus, have always composted, recycled, plus other environmental practices before they become popular. We constantly pick up coffee grounds from coffee shops to add to our gardens and yard,” she said.
Future plans for the Marples include clearing invasive species such as autumn olive and multi-flora rose, increasing forage capacity and diversity, and maintaining and improving their woodlands.
The Marples have participated in USDA-NRCS and the EPCD lime program. They are involved in all EPCD workshops and have religiously attended. They are members of the Maryland Cattle Association and the West Virginia and Morgan County Farm Bureau. They also participate in the Mid-Atlantic Farm Credit Survey Program. They are both very involved in their church through Vacation Bible School and serving on committees, maintaining the newsletter, and leading Sunday School.
For more information on the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and the Conservation Farm of the Year Award, visit www.wvca.us.