County's ag sector looks better all the time

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By Walt Reichert

The old clich that you shouldn't put all of your eggs in the same basket looks like polished wisdom when it comes to the county's economic health.

While many parts of the nation are reeling from job losses, depressed home prices and sluggish economic activity in general, Shelby County is doing better than most. Unemployment is higher than it has been for a while, home sales are slow here too, and retailers are feeling the pinch as consumers tighten their belts in response to higher gas prices. But at least one sector of the county's economy - agriculture -- is doing well.

Farmers are (finally) getting good prices for their grain, though they, too, are struggling with high costs of fuel and fertilizer. Beef cattle prices have been better but they allow for profits at least. Hay is selling well, milk prices to the dairy farmer are reasonable (though certainly not in line with the increase at the grocery shelf), and tobacco...well, tobacco at least is not getting any worse. Horse farms are still bringing in the tourists and keeping the cash registers ringing at feed and tack stores in the county.

The county's farmers have also diversified into chickens and eggs, vegetables, flowers, sheep, goats and alpacas. None of those operations are proving to be get-rich-quick schemes, but then no serious farmer thought they would be. But at least they seem to be reasonably profitable.

Given the gloom elsewhere, we're lucky, then, that agriculture is still an important cog in the county's economic wheel. It may not be what it once was, but considering the decline in the housing sector, the layoffs in industry, especially in the auto industry and the slow pace of commerce, it is a good thing the farmers are here.

Industry and housing and retail will come back again, of course. They always do. But one thing we have to remember: Once that farmland is gone for other purposes, whether it be houses or shopping centers, we can't get it back. In Shelby County, we have some of the best farmland in the state. Let's take care of one of the economic legs we have to stand on.