Friday, December 19, 2014

Why Did Grandpa’s Farm Get Bigger?
July 10, 2014 by John Parker | No Comments

Let's take a look at why Grandpa's farm got bigger over the years. Or why Grandpa rented his land or sold it and went to…

Let’s take a look at why Grandpa’s farm got bigger over the years. Or why Grandpa rented his land or sold it and went to work in town. And why today’s larger farms are still family farms and not corporate farms. In fact, there are no corporate farms in the area and very few in Ohio.

In the 1930s through the 1960s, the local area had many farms much smaller than they are today. And, farms of 1,000 or more acres were unheard of in this part of the country. Dairy herds may have averaged 10 to 12 cows, with some 15 to 20. During those years, a big herd consisted of 30 to 50 cows.

Grandpa, or possibly Great-Grandpa, did not have much labor saving equipment. Work was hard, time consuming and the number of acres farmed or cows milked was limited.

Prices farmers received in those years were not good. To stay in business, a farmer had to be very efficient and keep production costs low.

With money for family living too low to satisfy family needs, something had to be done. And, if a son or daughter wanted to stay on the farm after high school years were over, more income was essential.

So, Grandpa had to make a decision either farm more acres and milk more cows so there would be more money coming in or rent the farm to a neighbor and go to work in town.

Depending on the family’s personal situations and what the family wanted to do, Grandpa made the decision. If he had a good farm and family support, he decided to get bigger to provide more income to pay farming expenses and support the family.

If the farm was not very productive or was poorly drained and the family wasn’t interested, the farm may have been rented to a neighbor who wanted more acres. Or, it may have been sold to an interested buyer. In some cases, it was just left idle to grow up to weeds and brush.

As the years went by, new technology came along and farming more acres and milking more cows became easier. Milking machines made it possible to expand dairy herds with the same labor. Milking parlors that were even more efficient came along later and helped even more.

At the same time, jobs in town were readily available. Farmers knew what hard work was and if they wanted a job in town, they could find one. Working in town was usually easier and brought in more family income. So, given their personal situation, many farmers or their family members decided to give up their farming occupations.

No, it was not easy. Farming may have been all Grandpa and the family knew. And, they enjoyed country and farm life, even though it was hard and did not pay very well. Often they continued living on the farm even though someone else farmed it or it sat idle.

With an average acreage of 150 or 160 acres, this is still an area of small farms. Many of them are part time or hobby farms with the owner working off the farm to bring in more income.

At the same time, there are efficiencies that have been adopted on these farms. Labor saving equipment has been developed, fields have been made larger and more efficient to farm and new crop varieties have increased yields.

Then, one finds a number of family farms of 1,000 acres or more around the area. Or dairy herds of 150 cows and up are providing plenty of milk for everyone. These are family farms, not corporate farms.

Food produced on today’s family farms is of higher quality than Grandpa produced. It is possible, again, because of new technology. One good example is milk. Today, milk is cooled down to 38 or 40 degrees within minutes after the cow is milked. In Grandpa’s day, this may have taken two or more hours with a drop in milk quality during that time.

Yes, Grandpa did a good job, but it was hard work with not enough money coming in to feed the family. So, changes were inevitable and they have improved the food supply for all.

Parker is an independent agricultural writer.

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