Soil and water

Marples named Morgan County Conservation Farm for 2021 for its managed beef operation – The Morgan Messenger

Virginia and John Marple at their local farm in eastern Morgan County.

by Heather Duncan

John and Virginia Marple own and operate a feeder calf operation in Berkeley Springs. They were selected by Morgan County Supervisors as the 2021 Morgan County Conservation Farm.

This is the first step in the West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year program. A county winner is selected to participate in the district competition which takes a winning farm from each county located in the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District (EPCD).

The district winner then enters the zone competition which consists of six other conservation districts. The winner of the zone competition will then go on to the state competition for the coveted title of WV Conservation Farm of the Year. Historically, $ 1,000 and the use of a custom tractor have been awarded to the winners.

The Marples bought the farm in 1981 from John’s parents. His parents bought the 125-acre farm in the 1960s. While regenerative agriculture has been practiced since the beginning of agriculture, it is increasingly recognized and practiced by farmers and ranchers large and small.

The Marple have used these foundations and practices from the beginning. Due to their configuration, no farm equipment is owned or required. This dramatically reduces input costs, soil compaction and general soil wear and tear. Cattle can use the forage provided to them year round without the need for round hay rolls or other feed supplements.

In the 1990s, a forestry plan was developed to properly manage the farm’s 100 acres of woodland. Wind blocks using trees are also located on the property.

USDA-NRCS was able to implement two conservation plans to include 11,482 feet of fencing, 800 square feet of heavy-use protection, 1,465 feet of water piping and four watering facilities, a well and a pumping station. This improvement led to the use of 25.1 acres of pasture and forage biomass plantations for livestock.

This improved management reduced the environmental impact while increasing the productivity of land and livestock while increasing conservation and stewardship of the land.

Cattle are rotated on 2.5 acre pastures every three days. Depending on the forage quality of the pastures, the rotation can be spread over four to five days. John was able to build a pond himself to slow water runoff from the property. The property’s four ponds are fenced off from livestock and one pond is stocked with fish.

Overpopulation of deer is controlled by prescribed hunting. Cattle are the only livestock due to the threat of the fox and coyote in the area as the small animals would not survive. The Marples understand the balance of a healthy ecosystem and how to raise the cattle best suited to their situation.

In 2013, the Marples managed five head of cattle and are now able to comfortably manage 14 head with improvements in pasture management. The spraying of chemicals on the farm is very limited, which reduces the risk of chemical runoff, but also reduces the problems of disposing of used containers and unused chemicals. Medicated minerals and insecticidal ear tags are used to control flies in spring and fall.

Virginia has perhaps best summed up their operation.

“Conservation is the key to how we operate. We have always worked to keep as much land as possible on our farm and we are continually working to keep it from blowing away. John built two ponds, his father’s, to slow the loss of water and soil. Plus, I’ve always composted, recycled, and other environmental practices before they became popular. We are constantly picking up coffee grounds from cafes to add to our gardens and backyard, ”she said.

Future plans for the Marples include removing invasive species such as the fall olive and multi-flowered rose, increasing forage capacity and diversity, and maintaining and improving their forests.

The Marples have participated in the USDA-NRCS and the EPCD Lime Program. They are involved in all EPCD workshops and participated in them religiously. 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 the Holiday Bible School and serve on committees, maintain the newsletter, and run the Sunday School.

For more information on the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District and the Conservation Farm of the Year award, visit

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