In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than 9-thousand acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their land. In the first of a two-part series on farmers and the decisions they make about their land, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made the difficult choice to sell:
In the Great Lakes region, farmland is rapidly being developed into homes, office parks
and shopping centers. Nationally, farmland is lost at a rate of more than nine-thousand
acres a day. But in order for this development to happen, someone has to sell their
land. Tamara Keith introduces us to some farmers who have made that difficult choice:
At a busy intersection in a newly suburban area, a red barn and white house sit back
off the road. Lush green pasture land hugs the old farm buildings. But the days are
numbered for this bucolic scene.
(sound of construction)
Across the street dozens of condos are under construction… and farmer Roy Jackson has
put this 216-acre farm in Central Ohio under option for development. As soon as the
developer gets approval to build, Jackson’s farm will be no more.
“I’m a third generation farmer and you put your roots down and to see your land be
developed is something I have seen coming, but to actually see it happen across the
road; it’s a sad thing, but it’s progress.”
Sitting on his front porch, Jackson looks our on a neighborhood where once there were farms.
Jackson: “At one point we farmed over 1500 acres and now we’re down to about 300.”
Keith: “What happened?”
Jackson: “We’ve lost a lot of it to development. In the estate of my mom and dad
we had to sell that to settle the estate and that was part of it as well.”
Like many in agriculture, Jackson didn’t own all the land he farmed. He was leasing
it and when the owner decided to sell for development, Jackson was out of luck. Now
he says there’s not enough land left to farm profitably.
“I have a son that wants to farm with me and to do it here, there just isn’t enough
land to sustain two families and make a living for both.”
So, he’s found a big piece of land down in Kentucky, in an area where land is still
plentiful and development pressures are distant. He’s leasing it with an option to buy.
Soon Jackson and his son will have the cattle ranch they’ve been planning for years.
It just won’t be in the state where his family has farmed for three generations.
(sound of heavy machinery)
Workers operate backhoes to grade the ground in an open field that will eventually
be home to some seven-thousand people in a new development. Retired farmer and
agriculture educator Dick Hummel recently sold a portion of this land, allowing
the project to move forward.
“I had some people critical of me because I was going to sell farmland, but on
the other hand, I really didn’t. I traded. You just have to accept that in this
community because that’s what’s going to happen. That’s what has happened. Plus
the fact, it’s been pretty tough farming and this has given a lot of farmers a
chance to sell some land for some excellent prices.”
Hummel sold about 100 acres of farmland and bought some new land – 77 acres –
farther out in the country. His father had bought what Hummel calls the “home farm”
in 1935, and that family history weighed heavily on Hummel when he was deciding what
“It was harder to decide to sell that land because it had been in my family for many
generations than it was the agricultural part.”
His father bought the land for 100 dollars an acre and Hummel was able to sell it
for a whole lot more. Asked why he sold, Hummel’s answer is simple.
“The offer. I hadn’t thought about selling at all. I didn’t even know that they
would want any of this particular land ’till all at once there were others that
were selling for a price. I heard about that, and first thing I knew, a heck of
a lot of land in this area was selling. So you compare notes as to prices, et
cetera and so forth, and that’s how it happens.”
Hummel says he wasn’t pressured to sell. He’s well past retirement age, and
he says it was the right decision personally. And such is the case for most
farmers who sell their land for development, says Sara Nikolich, Ohio director
with American Farmland Trust.
“You’ve got acres of farmland that can be sold for 20, 30,000 dollars an acre at times.
For a lot of farmers that’s their retirement they’re sitting on, and when you have
development surrounding you and you don’t have any public policy to promote agriculture
and perhaps you don’t have any heirs, you don’t have any options available to you other
And so, the personal decisions of individual farmers are transforming some of the
nation’s rural landscape into suburban landscapes.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamara Keith.