Agricultural Life in
Farming has been a major part of Knox County for at least 1,000 years.
About eighty-six percent of the county's land is
farmland. There are about 1,200
farms in the county,
of 193 acres.
Because the eastern portion of the county is hilly and rough while
the western portion is flat to slightly rolling, a variety of crops are grown. Dairy products comprise
twenty-three percent of the annual agricultural output in the county, while
corn makes up twenty-three percent, beef thirteen percent, soybeans nine percent,
swine twelve percent, and poultry and other products, eleven percent.
Other crops within the county are wheat at two percent, oats and ham at four percent
and other crops registering at three percent. Knox County has the distinction
of being the largest sheep and wool producing county in the state. The gross receipts for
agriculture are nearly $57 million annually.
The Adena Indians first introduced
agriculture to the area around 1,000 B.C. By 1800 the
first pioneers settled along
the Owl Creek river. The first farms of Knox County
were small and very self-sufficient.
Due to new technology, farming changed drastically after World War II.
Combines replaced threshers, which meant that farmers could do more tasks on their own.
As a result farms could now be bigger.
In the 1970s, farms grew larger, towards what today is known as agribusiness. This change occured because it was becoming increasingly
difficult for smaller operations to profit. More and more farms became specialized. Knox County farmer, John Norris, comments that
"Nobody does just a little bit of everything anymore."
Low interest rates, growth-oriented government policies,
and predictions of expanding markets caused overspeculation of farmland.
The result was an increase of interest rates, the decrease of commodity prices, and in turn,
economic ruin for many small farms. Dale Grassbaugh, a Knox County farmer who has
expanded his farm in order to maintain efficiency, comments:
Whenever the milk and grain prices go down the only thing we're told is to
operate more efficiently. So you have to keep operating, figuring out how you
can bring in the same amount of dollars. And consequently I think places just
keep getting bigger and bigger...Most people that are trying to make a living
without outside income have gone from 20, 30 cows to where they are milking
100, 200, 1,000, 14,000. And that is big business.
During the 1970's, when many young farmers in Knox County didn't have enough capital to start farming,
many of them turned to other occupations. Many farm wives and other
members of farm families were forced to seek outside employment.
Currently in Knox County over forty-two percent of farm operators are over
fifty-five years old. Only thirty-five percent of them
are full-time farmers. The number of farms in the county, as well as the amount of land devoted to agriculture,
continues to decline, while the average farm size is increasing.
This is a source of worry for many who are concerned with the
future of Knox County. As one Knox County farmer says:
The history of family farming in Knox County is rich because of the nature of
farming as a way of life. You're not just passing down the family business, but
instead, a lifestyle on which your family and community have thrived for many
photo credit: Rachel Balkcom
E-Mail The Family Farm Project