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Families look for ways to continue their farming legacy

April 16, 2012
By Ashley Rittenhouse - The Marietta Times ( , The Marietta Times

Tom Witten has fond memories of working side by side on his family's Lowell farm with his grandfather, Ralph and father, Jerry.

"In those days where it was my dad and my grandpa and I feeding cattle, those are the things you'll always remember," said Witten, 32.

It didn't take him long to figure out the family farm would eventually be his to run.

Although Ralph passed away about nine years ago and Jerry is no longer active in the everyday farm operations, Tom Witten, his brother Scott and their sister Julie have carried on the tradition of operating the farm.

"Me and my brother run the field production and my sister Julie runs the retail - she has extreme organizational capabilities," Witten said.

There are a number of family farms in the area, although their futures are unclear as the cost of operating them continues to rise and younger generations decide not to get involved.

Fact Box

Family farms:

Every week 330 farmers leave their land.

There are now nearly five million fewer farms in the U.S. than there were in the 1930s.

Of the two million remaining farms, only 565,000 are family operations.

Half of all U.S. farmers are between the ages of 45 and 65, while only 6 percent of all farmers are under the age of 35.


According to, 330 farmers leave their land every week as running small farms becomes increasingly difficult due to the expansion of large scale operations.

Of the two million remaining farms, only 565,000 are family operations. Half of all U.S. farmers are between the ages of 45 and 65, while only six percent of all farmers are under the age of 35, according to the website.

The next generation of Witten children range in age from three months to three years, Tom Witten said.

"That's a big gap for the next generation," he said. "My parents had kids at 22 or 23 so there wasn't a big gap."

While he and his siblings are hopeful the youngsters will want to carry on the tradition of operating the farm, they have no intentions of forcing them into it.

Still, Witten said sees the future of the farm as very bright.

"But we want to take our cues from the past generations that when things weren't working, we adapted," he noted. "Things go obsolete so fast. If you don't embrace the everyday change, it'll grind you over."

Charles Campbell, 71, has seen his fair share of changes on his family's farm over the years.

Campbell, his wife Mary and their sons Joe and Chris run the Waterford farm, where there are about 200 sheep and 1,000 hogs and pigs.

"I bought a litter of pigs from a guy and kept two females and bred them and went from there. We kind of liked them," Campbell said. "I started in an old chicken house then things outgrew it and we started building hog houses."

While the number of pigs and hogs that are on the farm has grown over the years, Campbell said profits are shrinking because the cost of corn and soybeans used to feed them has increased dramatically.

Although his teenage grandsons Brady and Blake are actively involved with operating the farm, he knows it won't be easy for them to continue to do so in the future.

"If you don't have an outside job, there's no way you can make it," he said. "Mostly everything we buy has gone up and everything we sell has stayed the same or gone down. It seems like every time somebody wants to take something away, they want to take it away from a farmer - especially the ones who raise livestock."

Campbell added that he does hope to cash in on the oil and gas boom that is expected as a result of the use of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling process that involves shattering rock thousands of feet underground with a combination of water, sand and chemicals.

"I'm not leased with anybody but if they come around and offer me these big bucks like some of them claim they're getting, I'll take the money off of them and let somebody else do this," he said. "I'll be 72 in July. I'm ready to quit."

Tom Witten said he's not opposed to hydraulic fracturing - also referred to as fracking - but he does has some reservations.

"The lease we would sign, it might be for 100 years and that makes us wary of the whole thing because it's not (impacting) my daughter, it would be her kids," he said. "The groundwater is so important to us since we irrigate out of the groundwater."



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