Kansas State University has deep roots in the state’s agricultural history and in 2020 the university made plans to honor the Kansas agricultural families in a whole new way. The first annual Celebrate Agriculture Day, hosted by K-State Football, will be November 7 at the K-State vs. Texas Tech game, where one chosen Willie’s Farm Family will represent each county across the state.
Counties submitted applications and nominations for a chance to win game tickets and attend the fall sporting event. In the Wildcat Extension District in southeast Kansas, four families were chosen to represent their respective counties. Lallemand Farms was chosen to represent Crawford County. Tori Dickinson was chosen to represent Labette County. Leon and Lois Rau were chosen from Montgomery County and the Marple family was chosen to represent Wilson County.
Todd and Darla Marple, of Altoona, Kansas were surprised by their nomination and ultimately their selection as county winners. However, for anyone who knows the Marple family, a more devoted set of Wildcat fans would be difficult to find. The family is teeming with K-State pride, right down to their chosen farm name.
“We’ve done business as Wildcat Farms since 1992 when my uncle and I began to farm together,” Marple said. “We’re both K-State alumni — him back in the fifties and me in the late eighties to early nineties, so that’s where we came up with the name.”
Marple always knew he wanted to return to a career in agriculture after college, but his opportunity came in the form of his mother’s brother, who needed immediate help on his farm thanks to his wife’s health. In time, what began as family helping family evolved into a lasting partnership.
“Right at the end of my college days my uncle approached me about coming home and farming with him, but I went on to manage a purebred Simmental operation in Nebraska,” Marple said. “After about six months, my aunt was having some health problems and my uncle, Mark Wing, approached me again about coming back to farm with him, and that time I accepted.”
Today, Marple, alongside his son Tyce, farms corn, soybeans and wheat in a diversified operation that includes around 150 head of commercial cows. When Wing retired and Tyce stepped in to the family business, new ideas and experiences were brought into the business. And while Tyce is an Oklahoma State University graduate from a industrial and farm equipment degree program in Okmulgee, he’s still a dual supporter of K-State.
For 2020, like many farmers in Southeast Kansas, Marple will harvest only corn and soybeans. Wheat didn’t “pencil out” for the family this year, but the corn looks promising and the soybeans are well on their way as well.
“Our corn is going to be all over the place this year,” Marple said. “We have some fields that could very possibly make 100 bushels per acre and some that will probably yield 40 to 50 bushels per acre in the rocky spots since it’s been so dry.”
Timely rains have been influential on Marple’s crop progress this year and while they’re thankful for the rain they’ve received over the last few weeks, an excess of spring rains made the crop challenging to plant on time.
Tyce is the primary planter and trucker on the operation while Todd mans the sprayer. With the new generation’s return to the family farm, new techniques were introduced as well and today Wildcat Farms uses no-till practices on around 60% of their operation.
“We’ve no-tilled the majority of our soybeans for the last several years, but this year is the first year we’ve also no-tilled about 500 acres of corn as well,” Marple said. “I think that’s something both of us feel is important is to try and put back into the soil to make sure it’s there for Tyce’s kids and beyond.”
Wildcat farms utilizes cover crops for grazing as well as soil health and has had success with varieties of turnips, radishes and rye in the past. This year is the first year the family’s no-till practices moved beyond their soybean and cover crops and into their corn ground.
“We got a really good stand in, especially for the conditions we were planting into,” Marple said. “It’s fairly poor ground anyway and it looks very good so far — I’m sure we’ll no-till it again next year.”
In addition to Tyce returning to the family farm, Darla, who previously worked at Fredonia Co-op, also returned to the farm full-time to take over the bookkeeping and to step-up the cooking for their hungry crew.
Today, the whole family has transition to living and working together on the farm, but it’s no surprise they have been able to co-exist so well, especially since Darla’s expectations were set long before the family came together.
“The first real date I had with Darla, we were headed to a Valentine’s Day dance when I stopped to check on some heifers and one was having trouble calving,” Marple said. “I had to pull the calf and when I looked back over my shoulder, Darla was standing there with tears running down her face and I thought ‘This is not going well at all.’”
Today, with three children and a thriving farm, it’s clear the date was actually going pretty well, all things considered. Living life as a farm family is something Marple feels honored to have had a chance to take on, especially through his relationship with his uncle, and he would heartily recommend to the next generation and beyond.
“If farming is something you enjoy, then don’t ever give up on this way of life,” Marple said. “It’s difficult but it can be incredibly rewarding as well.”