This is rural Ohio. Consider the sprawling little cities (and they are getting bigger, Celina, St. Marys, Wapakoneta, Sidney) and the larger more urban cities (Lima, Findlay) and take a quick look around. The landscape will tell you what you need to know.
Economically speaking, west-central Ohio is farmland made up of large and small mainly family agribusinesses. Various crops, various livestock even processing facilities all comprise the farming community.
There are about 76,000 farms in Ohio and around 14 million acres in farmland. The value of that land both in construction and environmental needs continue to increase. It’s a battleground between the need to add larger businesses and factories due to the economic boom here in Ohio, along with increased need for housing versus the mere need to preserve acres for farming and or to protect our environment. It provides us all with hard challenges for the future.
When we look at agriculture and farming, the federal government currently defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products (crops and livestock) were sold or normally would have been sold during the year under consideration.
While Ohio farms range in size from 1 to more than 2,000 acres, the most recent statistics indicate that the average-size farm was 184 acres and 42 percent of Ohio farms were less than 50 acres. In order to accommodate large manufacturing facilities, most industrial parks need several hundred acres to operate; that’s two to three times larger then the average farm in Ohio. And although Ohio ranks 44th nationally and behind most of its neighbors in housing stock growth, Ohio has averaged a net gain of about 700 housing units statewide.
The profile of Ohio farms and operators is changing with the percent of principal operators with a primary occupation of farming decreased recently from 56 to 43 percent. The number of 500-plus acre farms decreased slightly and the number of 50-499-acre farms declined by 17 percent; only farms under 50 acres increased (+19 percent).
Although most acres dedicated to farming decreased — those operating the farm just seem to get older, and older.
The average age of farmers in Ohio is 56. Of the 75,861 Ohio principal farm operators, 42 percent are age 35-54 (a period generally referred to as the prime working age) — (funny how many farming friends I know who are “past their prime” LOL) and another 52 percent are age 55-70-plus. Only 6 percent (4,729) principal operators are 34 and under. Both national and Ohio employment projections forecast a reduction in the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, and a loss of farmer and rancher jobs (about 8 percent each during the 10-year period ending 2016). Nevertheless, farming is an occupation that continuously attracts new entrants. And you can see it in the number of agricultural majors in our various colleges and universities and the thousands of graduates each year produced by these institutions of higher learning.
A farm operator is a person who runs the farm, making the day-to-day decisions. A farm may have several operators. Ohio’s farms are operated by about 112,000 people, about 46,000 (40 percent) engage in farming as their primary occupation.
The principal operator of a farm is the person in charge, such as a hired manager, business manager, or other person primarily responsible for the on-site, day-to-day operation of each farm business. Less then eight years ago, more than 6,500 Ohio principal operators were on their present farm for four years or less and more than 11,000 were on their present farm between five to nine years.
Is it even fair to compare the differences and benefits between farming and industrial development along with urban sprawl?
I think it’s necessary to have the conversation — on a regular basis. We know that farming/agriculture is the largest industry in Ohio. But the politics and policies that lead to continued economic growth almost favor more and more industrial development and housing only if for the almighty tax benefits to cities big and small.
There needs to be a balance in the system of growth among those who share, use and live on the land we call Ohio. And we must find a way to preserve both without eliminating either.
Here’s seeing you, in Ohio Country!
The writer is the owner of Wilson 1 Communications. He is an award-winning veteran broadcaster for more than 30 years and the co-host and producer of “In Ohio Country Today,” a nationally recognized television show, and offers radio commentary and ag reports including locally for 92.1, the Frog WFGF Lima.