Making farmland preservation work

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The screen in the darkened room showed a rural road now bordered on the left by new homes.
“I used to farm this,” said Knox County’s Tim Norris as he flipped to the next slide.
Another grouping of homes, retail stores and a bank branch on the edge of Mount Vernon.
“I used to farm this, too.”
And another scene of a gravel pit pond.
“And I used to farm this.”
Norris started farming right out of high school in 1984, picking up rented ground to farm in the area. At one point, he was up to 900 acres.
But the rented ground in the booming central Ohio county eroded like unprotected topsoil and Norris estimates he lost 400 acres to development.
Tough to make it as a beginning farmer when the ground gets pulled out from underneath you.
So in January 1993, Norris sold his farm equipment and rented out his own farm, the most difficult decision of his young life.
He put his farming skills to work for local co-ops and earned certified crop adviser status, developing a talent for high tech precision agriculture. By 2003, he was the full-time precision ag coordinator for the Central Ohio Farmers Co-op.
Still, Norris watched more of the area’s farm ground planted in houses and it bothered him. He and his wife, Heidi, even received a hefty offer on their small farm along the Kokosing River that once belonged to Heidi’s aunt. It was very, very tempting, he says. But they turned it down.
About the same time, Norris learned of the state’s farmland preservation program that places land in an agricultural easement and restricts nonfarm development. He applied and in 2002, 56 acres of the Norris farm were among the first ground enrolled in the statewide Clean Ohio Agricultural Easement Purchase Program. The Norrises received $116,500 through the state program to restrict development on their farm forever.
The money let the young couple reinvest in their farm and this June Norris took another big step and became a self-employed crop adviser and precision ag specialist. And he still farms 200 acres.
Norris, who shared his story last week at the Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit, said the commitment has been worth it and urged other landowners to apply.
“I kind of think we’re at a crossroads,” he said, pointing to the groundswell of land trusts and farmland preservation efforts and conservation easement support.
“We want our legacy to be one of preservation,” he said.
The aerial photo of his farm along the scenic Kokosing River illustrates his desire.
He still farms that farm.
(Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editorial@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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