September 16, 2008

Despite Economy, Farming Appeals to the Young

By Chris Kick

It is difficult to grab a newspaper or magazine today -- and totally impossible to listen to a TV reporter -- without seeing some doom and gloom article concerning the economy. I have had the distinct pleasure to personally witness the complete opposite during the last couple of weeks. In the rural areas of my three counties -- Ashland, Medina and Wayne -- entrepreneurial optimism abounds.

Farm families are expanding their operations in order to accommodate younger family members who are returning from college and wish to begin farming as a career. Some of these young people have dabbled in other career options for a few years only to discover farming is their first love and the life they want for their own young families.

The decision to expand the existing farming operation is far from an easy one. The investment in new buildings, more livestock and equipment is a sizable encumbrance. These young farmers are getting to know their bankers quite well. The bankers have helped the young entrepreneurs analyze the many risks involved -- weather, volatile markets, rising utility costs, consumer trends, etc. Even with these same concerns most business owners face, these young people are willing to take the risks for the rewards of reasonable profit and a wonderful rural lifestyle for themselves and their children.

We have all experienced the struggle to stifle our own personal yawns after seeing someone in the room also yawn. Some time ago, I read that one thing, and only one thing, was more contagious than a yawn. That one thing even more contagious is enthusiasm.

Watching these young farmers beam as more cattle are unloaded from trailers to join the existing herd or new equipment is tested in the barn causes everyone in their proximity to smile and to feel some of that same pride.

The enthusiasm I felt when I visited these farms should be felt by everyone in the area because, as each of those farms expands, the communities in the county share tremendously in the rewards of the investment. All of us cheer when our community leaders are able to recruit a new business to our environs or help an existing business to expand because we understand new or expanded business boosts our local economy. We also understand business adds to our communities through intangible improvements, such as bringing intelligent, talented people into our neighborhoods and school districts. We seldom ascribe these same characteristics to the addition of a new farm or the expansion of an existing farm. But we should.

The farms I visited happened to be dairy farms, but this data could be depicting any farm expansion. One dairy cow impacts the local economy by $13,000 each year. This includes production and processing of the food she eats, the services she needs and the processing and packaging of the milk she produces. That figure does not include the retail sales of her milk products because those may or may not be local. That means a 300-cow dairy farm has an annual impact of $4 million on the local economy. Livestock operations consume local services. A livestock farmer cannot wait for service from some distant county. The result is money spent by livestock operations tend to circulate seven times within the local economy before they leave for distant corporate headquarters.

Couple the figures in the preceding paragraph with the fact growing farms employ people and typically pay very respectable wages. Farm work is hard and cannot follow a clocked schedule. Competitive wages and benefits are necessary to recruit the caliber of employee necessary to do the job and assume the responsibility for very expensive inventory.

Farms contribute a disproportionate tax-share to the support of local schools and services. Numerous studies have shown farms pay far more in tax than they consume in service. The figures vary slightly according to each study, but the general results are always the same even though the figures may change by pennies in each category. Typically, residential properties consume $1.52 in service for every $1 of real estate tax paid. Commercial property consumes $1.09 in service for every $1. Industrial properties consume 89 cents for every $1 and farms consume only 48 cents for every $1. Most farm expansions do not increase tillable acres but do add buildings, equipment, chattel and gross sales, which means that farm will be contributing even more in local taxes. Schools and local government services should cheer every expansion.

Ohioans are very concerned about "brain drain." Our best and brightest young people are taking their education and leaving Ohio for opportunities in other states. Politicians are considering tax incentives as recruiting tools to bring these young professionals back home. I opened this editorial explaining that these young farmers were coming home because the only incentive needed was the lifestyle they had come to value and love. These are talented, gifted people who have much to offer their enterprise and community. To meet the rigorous demands of the job farmers often use the phrase "work smarter, not harder."

Farmers are some of the most creative and industrious people you will ever meet. Each one is a true asset to your community.

We are approaching another harvest and another Thanksgiving season. Let's all give thanks for the wonderful blessing of our farms and farm families.

John Fitzpatrick is the organizational director for the Ohio Farm Bureau in Wayne, Ashland and Medina counties.

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