Farm numbers growing -- including profitability

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MORE’s report cites horses, corn soybeans as top uses of farmland

By Lisa King


The number of farms in Shelby County is growing, and, led by horse farms, corn and soybeans, the land is becoming more profitable. That’s the report that Jim Ellis, director of Maintaining Our Rural Environment (MORE), presented to Shelby County Fiscal Court, following his organization’s latest census of farmland and animals. The data actually may underestimate current production, because it employs a census that took place in 2007 and won’t be updated again until 2012. MORE developed maps to show how land is distributed, a process Ellis and Katie Sojothun, vice president of MORE, began in 2005. Their maps depict the location of equine and cattle farms in the county, as well as food-producing farms, 1,651 in all. MORE doesn’t count a farm unless it generates at least $1,000 in profits per year. “Those are the ones we count as being commercial for economic terms,” he said.  The 1,651 farms are a 6 percent increase from 2002, though average acreage declined from 130 to 124. Though Shelby’s agricultural heritage has been based in tobacco and dairy farms, most of its land today is devoted to corn and soybeans. And those crops are more profitable. Ellis’ figures show that farms are also making more money – 25 percent more – taking in $56,992 in 2007, up from $45,637 in 2002. The 2007 figure breaks down to $29,612 for crop sales and $27,380 for livestock.  Farmers also received more government payoffs in 2007, $1.689 million, compared to $1.328 million in 2002, an increase of 27 percent. The maps show that equine numbers in the county at the end of 2007 were 5,079 (horses and ponies). Ellis said that as of the beginning of 2008, Shelby County ranked seventh in Kentucky in the number of horses, mules and donkeys, and No. 4 in terms of the number of horse farms.  “The purpose of these maps is to show the big picture of these farms on Shelby County and to show people of the widespread use of farms and the economic impact it does have on Shelby County,” Ellis said. “Hopefully, it will lead to a better understanding of farming and how it’s to our benefit in Shelby County to have a diverse economy, and farming provides that.” Horse impact Ellis said the greatest agriculture-related economic impact comes from Shelby’s horse industry. “The Saddlebreds and the horses are a tremendous economic venture in the county – eighty-six Saddlebred farms,” Ellis said. “Just the Saddlebred industry alone, the training and boarding fees for their clients, was thirty-three million dollars in 2007.  “That was three times the economic effect of tobacco, but who knew it?” Connie Hayden, office manager at Undulata Farm, which is one of Shelby’s most renowned Saddlebred operations, said that currently the farm has around 115 horses and is expecting add 31 to 35 new foals from its breeding program this year. “We typically average around 30,” she said.  Much variety The new maps, which Ellis should be up on MORE’s Web site soon, show an extensive array of agricultural endeavors, including forestry, horticultural and even beehives. “When you drive out around Waddy, or east of Bagdad, you see a lot of trees,” he said. “So we went to the division of forestry to see how many related programs there are, how many orchards, or tree farms or orchards.” Sojothun agreed. “People need to realize just how important farmland is,” she said. “We’ve done surveys in the past, but this is just to remind people that farming is a big deal here in the county.” Ellis said that farming plays a huge role in the future of the county, and he has worked with  the Triple S Planning Commission in updating its comprehensive plan for the county. “In the past, people have seen farm land just as land that is open to be developed, and it’s not, it really has value of its own,” he said. “It’s comparable to industrial and commercial development in the county as far as the returns we get off of them.”