Clinton County Leads Metro Area in Farming

The growing importance of ethanol production is also helping to fuel some renewed interest in farming throughout the area, but mid-Michigan’s agricultural industry is very different today than it was in the past when a dozen or more small towns throughout the region—Leslie, Ovid, Westphalia, Pewamo, Vermontville, and others—served as the commercial and social centers for families that earned their living from farming and dairying. Today, many of these towns have become bedroom communities for people who work in and around Lansing, and the number of full-time farmers is only a tiny fraction of those who worked the land up through World War II.  Today, many farmers combine farming with other occupations, and some traditional farm operators have redesigned their farms as retail destinations to provide city and suburban residents with fresh seasonal products and entertainment opportunities for their families.

At last count (2002) there were just over 3,400 farms in the Greater Lansing area, with about 1,200 each in Clinton and Eaton counties and about 1,000 in Ingham County.  Together, these farms occupied 679,000 acres in 2002 out of more than 1 million acres of land in the entire three-county region.  This is about 62percent of all land in the region although the actual percentage may have declined somewhat over the past four years as residential growth continues to reduce farming at the fringes of the Lansing area’s cities and towns.

Not surprisingly, farmland makes up almost 70percent of Clinton County and almost 65percent of Eaton County, while farmland represents about half of all land use in Ingham County. On the other hand, there are not a lot of people who farm for a living in the region, and even fewer of them are full-time farmers.  Of 3,400 farms in the region, approximately 52percent are operated by full-time farmers who make their living through agriculture.  The rest are part-time farmers who do something else to make a living.  Less than half of all farms in Ingham County represent full-time occupations for their operators.  Full-time farmers are more common in Eaton County (52percent) and Clinton County (55percent).  Farmers comprise only a tiny fraction of the entire population of the region, which reflects the great productivity of modern agricultural enterprise in the U.S. In 2002, full- and part-time farmers represented just 1.8percent of the entire population of Clinton County, 1.2percent of Eaton County, and a scant 0.4percent in Ingham County.

Despite the small number of farmers in the Greater Lansing area, the farms they own represent considerable amounts of investment in land and equipment, and collectively farms in this area generate considerable business income.  The average farms in the Greater Lansing area in 2002 had an estimated value ranging from $585,000 in Eaton County to $623,000 in Ingham County, including more than $500,000 in land and buildings on average and between $65,000 and $80,000 in farm equipment and machinery.

The value of all products produced on farms in the Lansing area was $203 million in 2002.  Almost half of this was produced in Clinton County alone, and the rest was split between farms in Ingham and Eaton counties.  On a farm-by-farm basis the average value of products sold is fairly substantial, especially in Clinton County where slightly larger farms and more full-time farmers in the rest of the region generated more than $83,000 per farm in 2002, almost twice the average gross income per farm in Eaton County and about 65percent more than the average gross income per farm in Ingham County.  When costs are accounted for, however, resulting net cash income is only a fraction of the value of farm products sold.

Of the three counties in the Greater Lansing area, Clinton County stands out as the most prosperous farming area in the region.  Both the value of agricultural goods sold and net farm income are higher in Clinton County than in either Eaton or Ingham, and both gross and net income per farm in Clinton County are substantially greater than the averages for all farms in Michigan.  Clinton County also led the region in the overall amount of government payments to farmers in 2002–$4.6 million in Clinton County versus $3.1 million in Eaton County and $2.9 in Ingham County.  But not all farmers qualitey for government payments.  Almost half of all Clinton County farms qualified for government payments in 2002, and 529 Clinton County farms received $4.6 million in government farm payments for an average payment of $8,383 per qualifying farm.  In contrast, Ingham County had far fewer qualifying farms (237) in 2002, and they shared a considerably smaller pool of government payments ($2.88 million), but the average farm that qualified for government farm payments in 2002 received an average payment of more than $12,000.

Laurence S. Rosen, PhD








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