Farm Futures ranked several regions in the Southeast as the most profitable places in the country to farm. But farming in the Southeast comes with more riches than just bottom-line potential.
For its September 2014 issue, the staff at Farm Futures tweezed and crunched some federal census numbers to reveal the “Best Places to Farm,” at least the best places on paper, quantifying what we Southerners already knew, though we humbly might not openly admit.
Bryce Knorr, senior market analyst for Farm Futures, puts in a nutshell what they did to come up with the list:
“Farm Futures regularly calculates financial ratios and performance for more than 3,000 counties across the country. To develop our latest rankings of Best Places to Farm, we analyzed ag census data from 2002, 2007 and 2012 to calculate countywide financial performance, including return on assets, profit margin, asset turnover and average net farm income. Our rankings are based on the same measures used in other industries: profitability, financial efficiency, and growth.”
(Farm Futures is the top publication for high-end market analysis and farm-marketing know-how, and staffed by the best “Ag-heads” in the business, and I mean that in the nicest way. In full disclosure, the publication is now part of Penton Agriculture Group, the same group Southeast Farm Press is a part of...but I digress.)
Top counties to farm in Southeast
What Farm Futures found was the Southeast has a lot going for it as far as economic potential for growers. Out of the top 11 counties listed as the best, seven of those counties are in the Southeast, falling within the Southeast Farm Press readership. Here they are:
No. 3 -Monroe County, Ga.
No. 4- Macon County, Ga.
No. 5-Tattnall County, Ga.
No. 7-Franklin County, Fla.
No. 8 - Collier County, Fla.
No. 10 - Bladen County, N.C.
No. 11 - Hertford County, N.C.
And what the heck, I’ll include a few more top rankings from the Southeast to make the point even clearer: No. 13 - Accomack County, Va.; No. 17-Kershaw County, S.C.; No. 19-Anson County, N.C.; and No. 20-Barrow County, Ga.
I’m not surprised the Southeast dominates the top; it’s the combination of opportunity, resilience and what I’ll call the “Southern Hussle,” or doing what you gotta do to make it all work from year to year.
I’ve seen Midwest farming up close a few times, and it is amazing what they do out there -- miles and miles of unending corn, soybeans and wheat with only a few trees to break the scenery. They go big with a few commodities, and they do it well.
In the South, farmers can go big, too, but in a different way. It’s the weather, location and mindset which lead to going big, or the juggling act/chess game of a diverse operation. Going big is likely to mean having 57 different fields scattered over 53 miles, trying to cobble together enough irregular-shaped fields to build enough production to make some money.
On most any short stretch of Southern rural road, you can pass farms with a dozen or more different commodities planted on them. From peanuts to cotton, corn to soybeans, pecans to tomatoes, to grazing cattle dotting pastures to chicken houses neatly aligned in the distance, if you can eat it, drink it, wear it or smoke it, we can produce it in the South.
The region is rich in diseases and pest potential, too, some native and some invasive, that aggressively pop up at any given time to attack yields. The region, for the most part, is either caught in a drought or a deluge, making the decisions to plant, harvest or even go to the bathroom in a timely manner tough ever year.
So, looking at the Farm Futures “Best Places to Farm,” I’m reminded of the vast opportunity and good fortune we have to work ag in the South. If the Midwest is the Breadbasket of the Country, well, the Southeast is the Kitchen Pantry. We got everything else you need to make a good supper and the nice shirt to wear to it. We even have the best liquor cabinet, too.