EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the ninth in a series of articles profiling an Ohio farm family through a “typical” year. This month – a look at the Taylor family’s farm legacy.
RADNOR—The Zachary Taylor family of Delaware County has established a more than 200-year legacy of Ohio farming — nine generations to be exact.
One of Zach Taylor’s ancestors is Samuel Taylor of Virginia, born in the state of Delaware in 1695. Samuel, along with another fellow, was awarded a 20,000-acre track in the fork of the Potomac and the Shenandoah Rivers.
“They were to deem that out 1,000 acres at a chunk to anybody settling in the area,” said Taylor, referring to historical documents about his family lineage. “He was not too far from Harpers Ferry, which had a big role in the Civil War.”
Samuel’s son, Daniel Taylor settled with his son on a 150-acre farm on the Big Derby in Jerome Township (Union County) in 1802. There began the long Taylor lineage of Ohio farming.
Three generations later, Arthur Taylor (Taylor’s great-great-grandfather) owned a large amount of land during the 1930s and 1940s. He worked as a farmer and banker.
“He helped a lot of people keep their farms or retain their farms during the [Great] Depression,” said Taylor. “A lot of the farms around here have ties to him, at some point in time.”
Arthur eventually moved to Georgia with his son. “Dirt was cheap and the way we always hear the story told was he took a couple suitcases full of cash and went down there and ended up buying a good chunk of ground,” said Taylor.
Taylor’s relatives manage some of the land today. Arthur passed away in 1965 and was buried in Richwood, Ohio.
From horses to auto-steer tractors
In 1965, on Palm Sunday, a tornado swept through the Taylor farmland in Radnor, where Taylor’s great-grandfather, Thomas Taylor, lived at the time. The tornado destroyed a barn and other structures near the house, including a two story barn, chicken coop, buggy shed, corn crib and parts of the house.
“He [Taylor’s grandfather] walked into grandpa’s that morning and he [Thomas Taylor] was just covered in blood,” said Taylor. “A six foot long branch came through the window basically right over top of him.” Taylor has the branch in his garage.
Thomas and his family lived in the upstairs front room closest to the road, the same house where Taylor and his family currently live.
“A lot of times I think back to my great grandpa and he started planting corn with two horses when he was 12,” said Taylor. “And when he died in 2004, we had tractors that were basically auto steer, and yield mapping and computers.”
A proud heritage
Taylor worked his first field when he was probably around 10 or 11 years old. Working at such a young age, he developed a work ethic and learned life lessons early in life.
“Dad kind of started us out young on the farm with baby lambs and sheep and pigs and riding tractors with him,” said Taylor. “Granted, we didn’t have the machinery we have today. It was, for a lack of a better term, junk.”
But he always wanted to be a farmer. He says that he always thought a lot of his grandfather, Lowell Taylor, who farmed and shared sheep.
“There was just something about the machinery and the soil and the animals and somehow being in control of your own destiny that makes it a challenge — kind of forces you to be self-reliant,” said Taylor.
He says that as a farmer, you’re basically in charge of your whole future.
$100 bags of corn
“I remember the first year corn went over $100 a bag and dad just flipped,” said Taylor.
His father bought his farm in 1978 for $1200 an acre. Taylor says that today you cannot buy the “worst piece of ground anywhere around here for the price.”
The Taylor acreage has doubled since the 1970s and equipment has improved since his father farmed almost a thousand acres with what Taylor referred to as “junk equipment.”
“We went from raising hogs on pastures when I was a little kid to just basically finishing feeder hogs now in contained barns. We went from a 6-row corn planter to a 16-row corn planter, and a 15-foot drill to a 40-foot bean planter.”
He says that when he was born a lot of farmers were coming out of the “debacle when interest rates went crazy and a lot of guys lost their rear end, either playing the markets or being strung out too far on their loans. And the interest killed them.”
He says that today some farmers fear this might happen again, but Taylor isn’t so sure that farmers will see 18 to 20 percent interest rates.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes just in my 35 years,” said Taylor. “I remember when most our grain to town in gravity wagons and now it goes in semi-trucks.”
Today’s American farmer
Today farming is more variable and technology is developing quickly, leaving farmers to decipher through various equipment choices. “You gotta learn to manage that risk and how you want to spend your money and hopefully spend it wisely to where it creates return.”
In addition to the pressure of new technology, he says that farmers can’t compete with investor and development money regarding newly purchased farmland. He says that he can drive down the road and within ten minutes find 50 acres of land that hasn’t been touched. “It seems like a waste,” Taylor said.
“You gotta give credit to the American farmer because our land base across the nation has dropped,” said Taylor “And yet we’re still able to produce more food than the country can use.”
He emphasizes quality over quantity. “I’d rather be a 2,000 acre farmer producing 180-200 bushel corn and 55-60 bushel beans than to be a 4000 acre farmer only making 130 bushel corn and 45 bushel beans.”
He says that his daughter is interested in livestock and “she’s tickled to death with her calf and her goats and she’s looking forward to showing hogs.” He hopes that puts a little drive into her for future years.
“I feel like she has kind of inherited the farming gene,” said Taylor.
Preparing for spring.