So many things we assume at first glance are quickly contradicted when facts are carefully examined. In our community and across the country it's taken as a metaphysical certainty that farmers are conservative. In reality, farmers take some of the biggest financial risks in our economy with payouts that fluctuate widely, subject to weather, commodity prices, fuel and supply expenses along with the cost to rent or own the precious land that produces the annual bounty.
The taxable value of that land in Sandusky County is just under $150 million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's last agricultural census. Ag land values are more than twice as much as industrial property in the county and about $15 million more than all the commercial property here. In the last few years, Sandusky County farmers have seen their crop yields and commodity prices decline.
Area farmers are far from alone in this condition. The annual Farm Science Review held by The Ohio State University Department of Agriculture held a session on strategies to survive low profitability. Reading the session overview it becomes clear that surviving is defined as avoiding bankruptcy. Farmers with gray hair like mine are advised point blank that preserving wealth is more important than continuing on against the odds. Farmers at a different stage in life are advised to get some family income generated through a second job. Renting ground to plant crops that have high odds of producing an economic loss is loudly discouraged. Unsurprisingly the price-per-acre to rent farm land is falling and so are the land values of farms.
Nationally, lenders have noticed and their terms to farmers are becoming tougher on collateral. Of course, everything is relative. We would never have family farms if there weren't some boom years to even out the busts. Sandusky County and the nation are just a few years removed from record profits and land values. The past profits can help marginal operators hold on and debt doesn't exist for much long-owned land. But cash is flowing slower and asset values that were going up are coming down, no matter how much you have in the bank or how long the deed has been retired.
John Damschroder, a Fremont native who worked in Gov. George Voinovich's administration, writes about business and economic development in Sandusky County.