County remains a leader in agriculture

By Heather Meade hmeade@civitasmedia.com

June 18, 2014

DARKE COUNTY - Darke County was well represented in the 2012 Ag Census, released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently. A strong, family-oriented agricultural community, a dense livestock population, and the sheer size of Darke County all play key factors in keeping to the top of the agriculture charts.

“Darke County agriculture numbers are good because of the following: Darke County has the most acres of farmland in Ohio,” Sam Custer, ag and natural resources educator for The Ohio State University Extension, reported. “The availability of feed sources for livestock drives livestock numbers up; the work ethic is strong here, making the drive for profitable farming good; and family farming allows younger generations to join the family farm operation [without having to make a fresh start].”

Nationally, Darke County is ranked number one in pullets for layer replacement, and second in the nation for the number of egg-laying chickens, or layers. Ohio is the second largest egg producing state in the U.S., with nearly 28 million layers and 8 million pullets, ready to take their place, according to the Ohio Poultry Association. In 2012, more than 7.6 billion eggs were produced in Ohio, a value of more than $523 million.

“Darke and Mercer are the number one and two counties in the state for agriculture, and that kind of goes back and forth based on gross receipts,” said Jon Everman, office manager for the Farm Service Agency in Darke County. “Darke County has a sizable amount more cropland than most counties in the state, with approximately 360,000 acres; the sheer size, just the boundaries of the county are larger than most, and while there are larger counties, they don’t have the crop production that we have.”

Out of all 88 Ohio counties, there are 13,960,604 acres of cropland; Darke County comes in first in acres of corn, as well as chickens currently laying eggs, and chickens for layer replacement, Custer reported based on the 2012 Ag Census. Darke County is second in grain, poultry and egg, and hog sales, as well as soybean acres, and turkey and hog livestock inventory.

Darke County also ranked in the top 10 for sales in cattle (No. 5), sales of cows milk (No. 7), and the cattle inventory (No. 4). From 2007 to 2012, Custer reported that the number of farms in the county have decreased by 4 percent, and production lands have decreased 3 percent, but the average size of farms has increased 2 percent, for an average farm size of 201 acres.

“We have very deeply rooted traditions in agriculture here, obviously,” Everman stated. “It’s been that way for generations…We are still basically owned and operated by actual family farms, and family members pass their land down, maybe acquiring more through the years, from generation to generation. This is unique, especially in the northern part of the county, and is probably one of the key factors of our successes in agriculture.”