Life on the farm getting older, grayer

Clint Boyd of Clover inspects watermelons for sale at his farm. His son will one day take over the business, but farming families are becoming a rarity in York County.
Clint Boyd of Clover inspects watermelons for sale at his farm. His son will one day take over the business, but farming families are becoming a rarity in York County.

On hot summer days that find most York County residents in air-conditioned rooms, Clint Boyd's family in Clover keeps busy outdoors.

His wife, Carolyn, bustles about their roadside stand boiling peanuts and selling produce. Son Lester, called "Bubba," bales hay. Hired helpers pick tomatoes at the farm on Lincoln Road. Somewhere in the mix is Clint, picking up or delivering produce and helping his son harvest the crops.

The family farms 150 acres of wheat, 150 acres of hay and 5 acres of produce. They also raise about 150 Holstein steers.

Clint Boyd knows it takes a family to farm successfully, but farming families are becoming a rarity in York County.

Most children raised on farms aren't like Bubba, who went to Clemson University and came back. Others often earn a degree and never return.

The high risk of farming and large start-up costs can't compete with a steady paycheck and benefits, Clint Boyd said.

The result is fewer and older farmers.

In 1935, there were 6.8 million farms in America. Today, there are about 2.1 million, according to the American Farm Bureau. The average American farmer is 55, according to the 2002 census. Many York County farmers work into their 70s and 80s, said Joe Guthrie, livestock manager with the Clemson Extension Service.

Bubba knows he's not the typical farmer. "I've just always done it and always enjoyed it and been good at it," he said.

Even if more young people wanted to farm, it's difficult to start from scratch with the cost of equipment and land, Clint said.

As area farmers age with no one to take over for them, the prospect of selling land to developers becomes more appealing.

"So much of the land that was one time farmland such as pastures and stuff is going into developments," Clint Boyd said. "I can understand that. A fellow is going to get the most he can for his land."

Kenneth Johnson, 74, has seen many changes since he began farming full time in 1957. Homes now sit where cows grazed. Fast-food restaurants occupy land that once produced crops.

It's easy to see why young people don't want to farm, Johnson said. The price of fuel, fertilizer and equipment cut profit levels.

"If they could make a living, they would be interested, but they can't make a living," he said.

None of Johnson's five daughters was interested in farming. A grandson is interested and helps out, but Johnson doubts there will be enough profit for him to make a living, he said.

As he sees development increase and farms disappear, Johnson can't help but despair about what's happening.

"It really disappoints me because I like the outside, and I like to see trees and stuff," he said.

There is a hope for keeping farms operational as 4-H and cattle clubs continue to give children opportunities to learn.

Margie Sippel, director of York County's 4-H program, said young people in rural areas have kept a strong interest in the club the past 10 years. Numbers involved have remained steady, despite the decline in farms.

"These kids in the agriculture 4-H projects are keeping that heritage of farming alive," Sippel said. "That's very important to our community because we all eat and somebody's got to raise that food for us."

Elizabeth Chapple, 17, of Clover said her parents aren't farmers, but her mother encouraged her to become involved with 4-H when she was 7. Now, she takes care of four dairy goats, nine sheep, four horses and a cow.

"I just really enjoy being active and around the animals and outside working," she said. "It's fun."

The 4-H program has helped her develop leadership skills and to become active in the community, she said. Chapple plans to study zoology or biology when she goes to college.

Evelyn Edmunds of Circle E farm in Clover, who serves on the York County and South Carolina Farm Bureaus, helped start the South Carolina Junior Angus Association in 1968. Children enjoy showing the animals, she said. Their displays at fairs and cattle shows expose others to farming.

"The more they see, the more interested they become," she said.

Young people reap benefits from a farming lifestyle, Edmunds said. "Children learn an awful lot from being exposed to things on the farm ," she said. "You see the birth of a calf. You see one die. You accept death."

In her opinion, there's no better way to live.

She hopes future generations will agree.