Farmers "Diversify" to Stay Viable

By: Michael Hyland Email
By: Michael Hyland Email

The brutal heat is just one challenge facing local farmers.

Various sectors within the agriculture industry have gone through rocky periods in the last few years.

Partly in response to that, managers of the Virginia Farm Bureau say farmers are increasingly "diversifying" their farms and getting into several aspects of agriculture at once.

You used to see dairy cows on the farm Lynn Koontz runs in Rockingham County. Not anymore.

"And, boy, I'm glad I did that," says Koontz.

He's opted to get into several things including beef cattle, poultry and raising crops.

"You've got to spread your risk, and to do that you've got to diversify. And, you'll see more and more of that, just right here in Rockingham County," says Koontz.

Greg Hicks, vice president of communications for the Virginia Farm Bureau, says the demand for more locally grown food has also been a major driver for farmers diversifying.

"The agriculture industry has to work through some of the issues that we have to keep it viable," says Hicks.

Dairy farmers like George Rohrer recently went through a very rough period when milk prices dropped. He says his poultry operation helped to keep him going.

According to Hicks, the number of dairies in Virginia recently dropped to about 700, a 50-year low.

Rohrer says, "The dairy situation in the last year-and-a-half, I think really has people who maybe were not diversified, or mildly so, really looking for some options. What can we do on this farm to turn some more dollars?"

Koontz says his daughter is trying to get into farming at a time when he sees major changes to how farmers make money.

He says, "And I've told her, I said, 'You can farm for a hobby.' But I said, 'This thing of farming full-time to make a living, it's really going to be rough.'"

Koontz says, in the future, he sees farmers needing to find new niche markets. He says the space for large farms with several thousand acres simply isn't there anymore.


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