Grants will preserve farmland – Grand Rapids Business Journal
: The DeHaan Brothers centenary farm in Ottawa County’s Blendon Township will mark 37 acres for agricultural use only. Courtesy Julie Lamer
Two farms in West Michigan are among the seven in the state permanently preserved for agricultural use, courtesy of Michigan The Agriculture Conservation Fund provides grants totaling US $ 1.8 million.
Kent County’s Development Rights Program is maintained a $ 201,294 grant to purchase development rights for 167.76 acres of land on the Kruithoff family business later that year.
The Ottawa County’s Development Rights Acquisition Program receives a US $ 157,500 grant from the state to purchase the development rights to 37 acres of land on the DeHaan Brothers Centennial Farm in Blendon Township.
Matthew Channing, Kent County’s agricultural conservation specialist, said that once landowners acquire development rights, they can still use their land for a variety of agricultural purposes, such as building a barn for animals or building houses for farm workers.
“We just need to make sure the land is not permanently eroded and remove future agricultural uses that may not be taking place now,” he said.
The Kruithoff family business was in Timothy Kruithoff’s family for 51 years. They have farms that span four counties including Kent, Ottawa, Newaygo and Muskegon. The family raises around 18,000 pigs and between 300 and 400 cattle per year. They grow crops like corn, soybeans, wheat, and alfalfa.
Christine, Timothy Kruithoff’s wife said the family wanted to keep their multi-generation farmland because of their two sons who farm with them and their five grandchildren, to ensure the land remains farmland and to invest in agriculture again as well.
“For us, it’s maintaining our farm, but it’s also maintaining arable land in our region,” she said. “We’re a little bit north of Grand Rapids and we’re starting to bring more people to our area and farmlands are starting to turn into developments and other things. We want the arable land we currently own to remain arable land. “
Last year the family received 148 acres of land in Ottawa County, and in 2012 Christine’s in-laws Rose and Wilson Kruithoff, preserved 212 acres of farmland adjacent to land Christine and her husband plan to preserve this year.
Becky Huttenga, Ottawa County Economic Development Coordinator, said it was a common practice in the county – just like other places across the country – where farmers are turning their farmland into non-agricultural developments for a variety of reasons.
“Our population continues to grow and these people want to live somewhere and also have a certain lifestyle,” she said. “Many people like to live in the country. Agriculture is also difficult. You don’t make a lot of money. Farms are getting bigger. Small and medium-sized farms are declining as farmers go out of business. You age. According to some statistics I’ve read, farmers aged 65 and over are about six to one more numerous than farmers aged 35 and younger, so the large number of our farmers are over 65 years old. Farmers don’t usually say, “I will farm until I retire,” say, “I will farm until I die.”
“When at the end of their lives they get to the point where they no longer farm, there aren’t many beginning farmers to take over. So the land is put up for sale, and it either goes to a larger farm, which is fine in most cases, or it is sold for development. Often times, farmers have their retirement, their livelihood, tied to the wealth that the land is. They need the money for it, so it is better for them to sell it with full development rights. It is a problem. We are losing farmers and with them arable land. “
Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry. The U.S. is the second largest apple producer in the world, according to Kent County’s Michigan State University Extension’s 2020 annual report. The state is the third largest apple producer in the country.
There are over 2,200 acres of farmed wildlife sanctuary across Kent County, including the Fruit Ridge area about eight miles wide by 20 miles long, covering an area of 158 square miles in parts of Kent, Newaygo, Muskegon, and Ottawa counties.
West Michigan accounts for 65 percent of all apple production in Michigan, with 40 percent in Kent County alone.
“The Fruit Ridge area is a prime growing area and quite a unique growing area not just in Kent County but around the world,” said Channing. “In many parts of the world you don’t really see these conditions for growing apples. So it’s definitely a treasure to be kept for this use as you won’t see this availability anywhere else in the county. Most of the interest and preservation we currently have is in northwest Kent County. “