Small family farms still big business in Ohio

File photo. Family farms come in many sizes throughout Holmes and Tuscarawas counties. Each makes a unique impact on the economics of the area. Hog operations, chicken barns and dairy farms are seen throughout the area and each support larger companies in the consumer market.

*This story first appeared in The Budget’s June 13, 2018, Local Edition.

By Beverly Keller
The Budget

Ohio puts bread on the table and the butter and milk to go with it throughout the year. Farming is common practice on both the large and small scales throughout the state with an emphasis on the family farm in Holmes and Tuscarawas counties. The roots of the local economy are deeply embedded in the agriculture industry.

For some families, the connection lies within long white barns that house chickens for production facilities such as Case Farms and Gerber Poultry. Ohio is a very unique area of the country, and, according to numbers compiled by the United States government, has a large bearing on the entire world, and the backbone of that economy rests on the world of agriculture.

Did you know that Ohio has an economy that had a Gross Domestic Product of $625.7 billion in 2017 – a number that ranks it as the 34th largest in the world? However, Ohio’s economy is still just as fragile as the rest of the nation’s and, according to March 2018 numbers, had an unemployment rate of 4.4 percent.

Locally, the unemployment numbers aren’t quite as daunting, as Holmes County posted 4.3 percent but Tuscarawas County tallied 6.2 percent. Employing people and paying them a decent wage is a key to rebuilding Ohio’s economy. Locally, family farms employ generations as a way to keep the age-old tradition alive and growing. Ohio was second only to Texas in having the most U.S. cities in the top 30 best places for new college graduates, according to Businessweek in 2017.

Ohio’s agricultural industries represent $93 billion of the state’s economic output, employing one in seven residents directly or indirectly. Its agricultural market exports many different products. Ohio ranks first in the production of Swiss cheese out of all 50 states; second in eggs; third in tomatoes; sixth in soybeans; and sixth in corn for grain. The agriculture and food processing and eatery industries are heavily intertwined in Ohio. For example, Ohio is the third largest producer of tomatoes in the United States and, in turn, has the world’s largest ketchup processing plant in Fremont. Ohio is 16th in the nation for beef production and fifth in flower production.

The number of farms in Ohio stood at 73,600, as of June 2018, covering 14 million acres of land. Ohio is ranked ninth for the sheer number of farms in the state. Nearly half of all farms are operated by residents aged 35–54. The average farm size was 190 acres.

The dairy sector of the industry is growing. Ohio dairy cattle produce over 5.13 billion pounds of milk each year. Ohio poultry produce 7.1 billion or 592 million dozen of eggs each year. Ohio ranks 16th in beef production with 15,00 beef farms with 292,000 cows.

Ohio is a lead producer of horticulture products including greenhouse and nursery plants to bulbs. The state is a producer of white ash trees for landscaping, totaling 25,000 each year. California, Florida, Texas, Michigan and Ohio accounted for 42 percent of the nation’s production of bedding plants in 2010. Red and white oak, as well as walnut, are exported around the globe from Ohio. In fact, an estimated 400 million board feet are harvested each year. Corn and soybeans are the top of the heap in terms of cash crops in Ohio.

Other milestones for Ohio in terms of agriculture, are: cottage cheese – second; milk sherbet – fifth; grapes – seventh; ice cream – eighth; tobacco – eighth; all cheese – ninth; apples – ninth; hog and pig production – ninth; oats – ninth; cabbage – 10th; strawberries – 10th; operations with hogs – third; operations with sheep – fourth; livestock slaughter plants – fourth; operations with milk cattle – fifth; dairy plants – sixth; number of farms – ninth.

Holmes County is unique in that it is home to the largest Amish settlement in the world and brings with it a diverse agriculture. Agriculture in Holmes County is an important piece of the local economy – generating more than $126,000,000 in gross receipts. The county is ranked first in the production of oats, second in hay production, third in cattle and calves, and third in milk cows. The eastern half of the county is mostly Amish who raise dairy cattle and forage crops. Many of these farms are smaller in size, both in the number of animals raised and acres grown.

The impact of agriculture last year was $385,876,069, which equates to just over 20 percent of the county’s economy. Agriculture production makes up $109.5 million of the total economy. The top three areas are dairy cattle and milk production followed by poultry and egg production.

About 22 percent of those employed in the county are in an agriculture or related post. Income is $268,799,924 over the spread of 7,968 employees. Tuscarawas County is home to 950 farms that cover 138,000 acres. The average size is 145 acres.

The impact of the agricultural and food production cluster to Tuscarawas County was $227,995,907 which is about 6 percent of the county’s economy. Agriculture production itself is $51.9 million.

Dairy cattle and milk production make up the biggest part followed by hay production and misc.

Agriculture and related industries represent 3,830 jobs or 8 percent of total jobs. That brings in $151,775,772.

Farmers, in turn, support small and large businesses alike, helping to keep the economy on the up and up. In fact, Ohio’s private sector is made up of over 921,000 businesses. It all adds up to farming being a big business for Holmes and Tuscarawas counties as well as Ohio.

However, as times get tougher and the milk price continues at an all-time low, many farmers are thinking about selling out. “Making a decision to sell part or your entire farm is not easy and involves a great deal of emotions,” explained Chris Zoller, ag extension agent at The Ohio State University. “Farmers have told me they worry about being seen as a failure, about the impact a sale will have on family and employees, or what they will do with their life after the sale. These are realistic concerns, but it’s important that you don’t let emotions drive the decision-making process.”

He noted there are many people including accountants and attorneys that can offer sound advice. “Arriving at the decision to sell will not be easy,” he said. “Find someone with whom you can share your feelings; don’t see yourself as a failure; talk to professionals; and make the best decision possible.”