- Associated Press - Saturday, January 2, 2016

FLAT TOP, W.Va. (AP) - Somewhere above the clouds in Mercer County, a farmer was surprised when he learned that the Southern Conservation District had recognized him as the “Conservation Farmer of the Year.”

“It was a surprise,” Richard “Dick” Barnes said from the kitchen table of his mountain top farm surrounded by beautiful textured pastures bordered by wooden fences, seven ponds and sturdy out-buildings.

“I quit school, when I was in 10th grade,” Barnes, 75, said. He grew up in Michigan, and moved to Raleigh County in 1959. Four years later in 1963, he started a business - Forest Home Builders and Contractors - and in 1970, he and his dad bought a farm on Dud Lilly Road. “Me and dad did it for a hobby,” he said.

Barnes noted that it would be nearly impossible for an individual or a family to survive off of the earnings from a farm.

While he was clearing his farm, he ran the contracting business and developed a machine and fabrication business that Walker Caterpillar acquired in 1992. He also ran a bar called near the Raleigh County Airport

“When I was in school, I probably would have been considered the least likely person to be successful,” Barnes said. “We did a lot of improvements to the farm through the years. We fixed up the old farm house, worked on the barn and replaced the wooden fences.

“I just enjoy doing it, and my dad did too,” he said of his father, Ray A. Barnes, who passed away several years ago.

Barnes said Len Alvis put in a pond on the property near the farm house in 1975, and helped with some of the others. Alvis is with the Natural Resource Conservation Service office based in Princeton.

“Len, Bill Harris and representatives from several districts came out here to look at the farm in July,” Barnes said. “I just run a small operation, but I work hard on it.”

Virgel Caldwell, local conservation supervisor, said that the six-county region of the Southern Conservation District bestows the Conservation Farmer award annually.

Barnes has about 250 to 260 acres. On a tour of the farm, he showed the strategic location of the ponds on the property as well as the impact of using a natural fertilizer, Amsoil, in his pastures and hay fields.

While he was surprised by the award, Barnes said he is proud of the award.

“We had Angus triplets up here,” he said. “That’s pretty rare.” He has a small herd of registered Angus cattle on his farm, and enjoys the beauty of his home on Flat Top Mountain.

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Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, https://www.bdtonline.com

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