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Johnson has new 70-mile trek between operations
By SEAN CLOUGHERTY
GOLDSBORO, Md. (June 10, 2014) — Brian Johnson said he wrestled with the decision for more than a month before he decided to buy a 300-acre farm in Caroline County, about 70 miles from where he lives and farms in Somerset County on the Lower Eastern Shore.
“I’ve had people tell me I’m crazy,” the 34-year-old grain, beef cattle and poultry farmer said. “I don’t know whether I am or not. I hope it was worth the risk. We’ll find out.”
While the loss of farmland statewide in Maryland has leveled off in the last decade, according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, the old adage that “they’re not making any more of it” still applies, and for farmers who want to expand their operations, that more often means looking farther away from home.
Census data also show farm operation cost increases outpacing increases to farm income, 25.4 percent to 20.8 percent respectively, pushing farmers to expand their operations to spread costs over more acres and increase income.
“As farmers look at growing a farm, it’s no longer an option to stay five to 10 miles within your home farm,” said Ben Alder, real estate agent at Sperry Van Ness-Miller Commercial Real Estate who listed the farm Johnson bought. “I think there’s a lot of farmers who 20 years ago didn’t think they’d be farming where they are today.”
Johnson said in his case, there were few if any opportunities to buy land in the county where he lives and he didn’t want to get into bidding wars with neighboring farmers to rent farms nearby.
“It’s hard to expand at home, well, anywhere I guess,” Johnson said. “In Somerset County, generally, it doesn’t change hands unless somebody dies,” he said. “The bigger you get, you can’t just get a piece next door. If you want to grow, you have to travel.”
Last week, with his chicken houses empty and field work on his Lower Shore farms halted by heavy rain, Johnson made the three-hour trip to Caroline County in his tractor and planter to plant no-till soybeans.
He had the field sprayed by a custom applicator before planting and anticipates doing the same for applications during the growing season since he also does custom spraying for farmers on the Lower Shore.
The farm is within 15 miles of three different grain elevators, Johnson added, which made the farm more attractive.
“As long as I stay in no-till and don’t rut it up, I just have to come up twice a year,” he said.
One drawback he said of farming that far from home is if he gets stuck in the field or breaks down, he’s alone, but through his invovlement in Farm Bureau and other organizations, he said there are friends nearby he can call to help if needed.
The Goldsboro farm brings Johnson’s farmed acreage up to about 1,400, with about 100 acres of that in hay and pasture for his beef cattle herd.
With three children and his oldest son, Ben, interested in farming, the decision to buy land a few counties away was more about them than him, he said.
“I’m trying to look to the future,” Johnson said. “I have a son that wants to farm, and I don’t want to quit yet. If I turned it down, I wouldn’t get another chance at it.”