Farmlands affected by economic crisis

Heather Scarlett


Portage County has a wide landscape dotted with farms and orchards that have been owned and operated by the same families for generations. But with the national economy in a crisis, local farmers are feeling the effects on their products and properties.

Beckwith Orchards, located in Franklin Township just outside of Kent, has been owned by Charlie Beckwith’s family for 130 years, and it is feeling the strain from the national economic crisis.

“When I started as a boy growing up here, we were a general farm,” Beckwith said, “We did everything – eggs, beef, milk, along with garden produce, and of course we’ve always had an orchard. Since then, we’ve gone primarily to orchards.”

Rising gas prices cause the cost of cider production to rise. Beckwith said the truck used to take apples to be pressed into cider gets 10 miles to the gallon. It is a 50-mile trip.

Beckwith said when he was younger, cider was sold for 80 cents a gallon. Currently, Beckwith Orchards sells it for $5.25, is still lower than other producers’ prices.

Even with the cost increases, farmers like Beckwith are still able to make a profit and expand.

“Over a period of time, we’ve been able to buy the property between us and the Cuyahoga River and Breakneck Creek,” Beckwith said. “So we’ve gone from a 41-acre family farm to 111 acres now.”

Nick Kennedy, organization director for the Portage County Farm Bureau, said there are currently 94,000 acres of farmland in the county.

It was a trend in the past for agricultural land to be bought and used for housing developments. The poor market trend has slowed this down, he said.

Kennedy said farmland in Portage County is going more toward the production of soybeans for the use of ethanol and away from corn.

Kathy Cutting is the supervisor in the real estate assessment department of the Portage County Auditor’s Office, and she explained what the economic crisis means for local farmers.

The 2007 to 2008 market conditions have affected the overall value of agricultural property in Portage County, she said. Some agricultural properties are being sold for $20,000 to $40,000 less than they would have sold for a few years ago.

“(But) there is always a demand for agricultural property,” Cutting said.

In some cases, the auditor’s office is seeing agricultural properties being sold for a higher market price than what the land has been valued at, she said.

“Farmers are having problems with farmland being purchased at a price point most developers would pay for developed land,” said Stephen Heppe, president of the Portage County Farm Bureau and a local farmer. “The amount some farmers are forced to pay is more than they could recoup in years and years. This makes purchasing much of the farmland uneconomical to the normal farmer.

“This is a problem that has been happening for many years. I feel that it is settling down because of the housing market and the economy.”

The National Agricultural Statistics Service Web site gives the following information about how farmland has been affected in recent years:

&bull The number of farms in the United States in 2007 was estimated at 2.08 million, 0.6 percent fewer than in 2006.

&bull Total land in farms, at 930.9 million acres, decreased 1.5 million acres, or 0.16 percent, from 2006.

&bull The average farm size was 449 acres during 2007, an increase of three acres from the previous year.

“The decline in the number of farms and land in farms reflects a continuing consolidation in farming operations and diversion of agricultural land to nonagricultural uses,” the NASS Web site said.

“I think most farmers are surviving with the cost the markets are giving them,” Kennedy said. “Prices have gone up on products, but prices have also gone up to produce those products.”

Contact public affairs reporter Heather Scarlett at [email protected].