Comprehensive Plan – Agriculture and Rural Areas
Dairy and tobacco provided most of Mason County’s rural income in 1978. Their profitability supported multi-year multi-crop rotations with many acres of hay/pasture but limited row crops.
Today dairy is gone, and tobacco is nearly gone. USDA reports that Mason County had 19,636 fewer acres of pasture in 2017 than in 1978.
Many landowners hoped to replace their lost income by planting continuous corn and soybeans on much of this lost pasture in no-till. They found corn/soybeans have large capital requirements, narrow, erratic margins. reduce local topsoil’s organic matter each season and accelerates soil erosion. In addition, row crop chemicals can contaminate groundwater. Mason County’s topography is dominantly undulating to very steep and is dissected by many small streams.. This topography does not support the large fields needed to compete economically with the corn belt’s large-scale machinery.
Farming was the principal occupation of 568 Mason County residents in 1978, but only 354 in 2017. Many of these jobs were lost in the switch to highly automated cash grain.
We should not expect any one rural enterprise to provide our only way forward. We should emulate our past and find multiple ways for Mason County’s land to support our future and also:
- Protects our topsoil for future generations.
- Reduces chemical pollution in local watersheds.
- Generate an additional $64 million to replace lost tobacco and dairy income
- Increase the number of local high-value job opportunities.
- Increase the real estate tax base to support local services.
- Don’t add a long-term burden to local infrastructure.