LOOKING BACK

Tennessee agriculture still big, but changing

Larry Bowers
Posted 1/28/18

The livelihood of my family, in my grandparents' day, had to do with agriculture. Tobacco was the major crop on their Greene County farms, as well as other crops and livestock production.My …

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LOOKING BACK

Tennessee agriculture still big, but changing

Posted

The livelihood of my family, in my grandparents' day, had to do with agriculture. Tobacco was the major crop on their Greene County farms, as well as other crops and livestock production.

My grandfather on my father's side had a farm in the Mosheim community, just southwest of Greeneville. They raised cattle and tobacco.

My mother's father was on the southeast side of Greeneville, near the Cedar Creek and St. James neighborhoods. This grandfather was chief deputy of the Greene County Sheriff's Office for several years, while his children managed the agriculture enterprises.

This grandparent had seven farms in Greene County when he passed away. I've always wondered about his accumulation of farmland, but I imagine, in his day, agriculture ventures were things to pursue.

Unfortunately, that was in the past, when Tennessee, and East Tennessee, were dominated by agriculture.

Since that time, agriculture as a business has declined. The amount of land being used for farming, and the profitability of farming, are shrinking.

This is true for my birth community in Greene County, in Blount County where I was raised, and in Bradley and Polk counties locally.

Tennessee farmland decreased 15 percent between 1992 and 2007.  Loudon County, just north of our community, lost 46,000 acres.

Ironically, despite the shrinkage of farmland, farm operations increased. This occurred because farms became smaller, and many were split into community farms.

Also, production costs have increased at a higher rate than the value of products taken to market. Farms are selling more crops and livestock, but generating less revenue.

Despite the challenges, East Tennessee remains strong in its support for farmers. Farmland preservation, more farmer's markets, and more locally grown food are necessary for the growing urban population..

Some interesting farming facts about Bradley and Polk counties:

• Bradley County has six Century Farms (of over 100 years of).

They include Chatata Valley Heritage Farm, Levi Trewhitt Farm, Varnell's Dairy Farm, Kelley Farm, Hiwassee Bend Farm and Bend of the River Farm.

• There are 28 Polk County farms owned by families for 100 years or more.

• In a listing of Polk County's large landowners from 1840, the list includes how many slaves were owned by specific farmers. There were more than 225 slaves listed.

The reason for this is that a majority of the farms were venturing into the production of cotton. This crop continued to dominate the county's market through the middle of the 20th century.

Polk County reported 2,000 bales of cotton in 1889. Production increased to 2,189 in 1920, 2,844 in 1930, and a high of 3,061 bales in 1934.

Cotton then declined from 2,952 bales in 1940, to a low of only two bales (or 1,000 pounds) in 1971. 

Tennessee's main crops continue to include cotton, but there are others.

Surprisingly, soybean production ranks No. 1 in the state with 43.7 million bushels harvested in 2010. Corn is mostly grown for grain and silage, and there were 180,000 acres of wheat with an average yield of 53 bushels per acre.

Tobacco had fallen to 45.7 million pounds in 2010, and top producing counties switched from East Tennessee to the western section of the state.tle is No. 1 in livestock production, with 45,000 cattle farmers raising one million cows. Chicken farmers raised more than 193 million chickens for meat, as poultry contributed $475 million to the state's agricultural cash. 

Two of the state's top three dairy counties are just north of Bradley in McMinn and Monroe. Greene County is a third. Swine producers raised 185,000 head, but this was a decrease of 20,000 from the previous year.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in Tennessee's livestock statistics is the fact the state is No. 2 nationally in goat meat production. Perhaps livestock production  isn't as "baaaad" as it could be!

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