Grants will preserve farmland

Two farms, one each in Kent and Ottawa counties, will keep more than 200 acres from commercial developers.
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: The DeHaan Brothers centennial farm in Ottawa County’s Blendon Township will mark 37 acres for farm-use only. Courtesy Julie Lamer

Two West Michigan farms are among seven in the state that will be permanently preserved for agricultural use, courtesy of Michigan’s agricultural preservation fund grants that total $1.8 million.

The Kent County Purchase of Development Rights program will receive a $201,294 grant to purchase the development rights to 167.76 acres of land on the Kruithoff family farm later this year.

The Ottawa County Purchase of Development Rights program will receive a $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, agricultural preservation specialist for Kent County, said once the development rights are purchased, landowners still can use their land for different agricultural uses such as building a barn for animals or building houses for farmworkers.

“We just have to make sure that it does not permanently erode the land and remove any future agricultural uses that might not be happening now,” he said.

The Kruithoff family farm has been in Timothy Kruithoff’s family for 51 years. They have farms that spread across four counties, including Kent, Ottawa, Newaygo and Muskegon. The family raises about 18,000 hogs and between 300-400 cattle per year. They grow crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa.

Christine, Timothy Kruithoff’s wife, said the family wants to preserve their multigenerational farmland because of their two sons who farm with them and their five grandchildren, to ensure that the land remains farmland and also to re-invest in farming.

“To us, it is a preservation of our farm, but it is also the preservation of farmland in our area,” she said. “We are a little bit north of Grand Rapids and we are starting to get more people toward our area and farmlands are starting to turn into developments and different things. We want the farmland that we currently own to stay farmland.”

Last year, the family preserved 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 the land that Christine and her husband plan to preserve this year.

Becky Huttenga, economic development coordinator for Ottawa County, said it is becoming a common practice in the county — just like in other places throughout the country — where farmers are converting their farmland into non-agricultural developments for a variety of reasons.

“Our population continues to grow, and those people want somewhere to live and also a certain lifestyle,” she said. “A lot of people like to live in the country area. Also, farming is hard. You don’t make a lot of money. Farms are getting larger. Smaller and medium-size farms are decreasing because farmers are getting out of the business. They are aging. According to some statistics I read, farmers age 65 and older outnumber farmers 35 and younger by about six to one, so the vast number of our farmers are over 65. Farmers don’t usually say ‘I will farm until I retire,’ they say, ‘I will farm until I die.’

“If they get to the point at the end of their life when they are no longer going to farm, there aren’t a lot of beginning farmers to take over for them. So that land goes up for sale, and it either goes to a larger farm, which is fine in most cases, or it is sold for development. A lot of times, farmers have their retirement, livelihood, tied up in the assets that are the land. They need the money out of that, so it is more advantageous for them to sell it with full development rights. It is a problem. We are losing farmers and as a result farmland.”

Agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry. According to Michigan State University Extension’s 2020 Kent County Annual Report, the U.S. is the second-largest apple producer in the world. The state is the third-largest apple producer in the country.

There are over 2,200 acres of preserved land on farms across Kent County, which includes in the Fruit Ridge area, which is approximately eight miles wide and 20 miles long, covering 158 square miles in portions of Kent, Newaygo, Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

Sixty-five percent of all Michigan apple production is in West Michigan, including 40% in Kent County alone.

“The Fruit Ridge area is a prime growing area, and it is a rather unique growing area, not just in Kent County but in the world,” Channing said. “You don’t really see those apple-growing conditions in a lot of places in the world, so it is definitely a treasure that needs to be preserved for that use because you don’t see that availability anywhere else in the county. Most of the interest we see and most of the preservations that we currently have are in the northwest area of Kent County.”

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