Agricultural Life in Knox County

man on tractor 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, with an average farmsize 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 generations.

photo credit: Rachel Balkcom

home sources
E-Mail The Family Farm Project