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Economic drivers come in all sizes

This Business of Farming: What makes somewhere the best place to farm? A Farm Futures study digs into the economic factors.

Pam Caraway, Farm Futures executive editor

May 22, 2024

4 Min Read
Allie Belger and her dad post with dog
MAN'S BEST FRIEND: Allie Belger and her dad, Wayne, spend a few minutes with Max, a Boykin spaniel. The Boykin Spaniel Society will soon increase its economic impact on Kershaw County, S.C., when a new facility opens on land leased from Belger Farms.Pam Caraway

Editor's note: Farm Futures’ exclusive Best Places to Farm report ranks the financial performance of 3,056 counties. By analyzing proprietary data and the recently released results from USDA’s 2022 Census of Agriculture, Farm Futures averaged weighted ranks of the ratios on return on assets, profit margins and asset turnover for each county. How does your county rank? Visit the interactive map to check the ranking of 3,056 counties and browse other stats.

The best place to farm? Well, of course, it’s right where your mom and dad did.

The best place to farm is where you took your future wife after dinner when you asked her to help check the cattle. She didn’t know she was your future wife. She also didn’t know there were no cattle. Parking in the corn is a time-honored tradition.

Joe Bragger sometimes wishes his parents had chosen flat over hilly land near Buffalo County, Wis. But his wife’s favorite place is a mountain field that overlooks their homeplace. So maybe the ground he works really is the best place to farm.

Can you marry into a better place to farm?

Iowan Mark Guy liked the spot his in-laws chose better than where he was farming. So when he married Linda Stockdale, he moved to her homeplace, although he also held onto his family farm.

Related:Is your county the Best Place to Farm?

Down to numbers

When you think about the best places to farm, do you focus on economics? Farm Future’s rankings study does.

For our cover story, Bryce Knorr, contributing market analyst, used fresh 2022 Ag Census data to produce the return on assets, profit margins and asset turnover ratios for each county, and then averaged all three.

Farmers aren’t likely to see any of that impacting whether their corner of the world is the best place to farm. Commodity prices and land values rise and fall. Farmers focus on the long run when they speak to best places. They speak to traditions, mentors, church, faith and family. Some might mention good soil.

Share the ranking for their county, however, and they readily dig into the economics. Land values, basis and locally positioned end users. And that’s where we discovered the secret sauce behind these rankings.

The best counties enjoy greater ag-centric business activity. That’s often due to farmer-leaders who put in years of effort to land those economic plums.

Wayne Belger told me feed mills don’t just decide to locate in a community. Leaders, often farmers, pull them in. His comment made me think about the times we’ve written about those projects — and reminded me of the people who led these efforts.

Related:Farm profit: New data reveals regional differences

Better yet

Want to make your best place to farm even better?

For your community, maybe it’s pulling in an alternative fuel processing plant. Maybe it’s drawing city dwellers out for agritourism. Perhaps it’s diversifying your own farm with a niche crop on a few acres. Management adjustments on the farm and opportunities in the county add up.

Belger, like many in farm communities across the country, thinks ahead. His latest project is providing land for the Boykin Spaniel Society. Those brown dogs add another economic driver to Kershaw County, S.C., which ranked No. 1 in this year’s Best Places to Farm study.

Having a facility that draws in enthusiasts will increase its impact. May we all be lucky enough to find economic drivers that include a little brown dog with a lot of love to give. After all, any barn with a good farm dog is a “best place.”

Learn more about Farm Futures' Best Places to Farm study and view the interactive map to see where your county ranks.

2022, 2017 and 2012 Best Places to Farm maps

About the Author(s)

Pam Caraway

Farm Futures executive editor

Pam Caraway became executive editor of Farm Futures in 2024. She has amassed a career in ag communications, including leadership roles in editorial, marketing and public relations. No stranger to the Farm Progress editorial team, she has served as editor of former publications Florida Farmer and Southern Farmer, and as a senior staff writer at Delta Farm Press.

She started her writing career at Northwest Florida Daily News in Fort Walton Beach. She also worked on agrochemical accounts at agencies Bader Rutter and Rhea + Kaiser.

Caraway says working as an ag communications professional is the closest she can get to farming – and still earn a paycheck. She’s been rewarded for that passion and drive with multiple writing and marketing awards, most notably: master writer from the Agricultural Communicators Network, a Plant Pathology Journalism Award from the American Phytopathological Society, and the Reuben Brigham Award from the Association for Communication Excellence.

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