Farmers see changes in rural landscape
Even on a cloudy day, Kevin Holton can stand outside his house on a hill east of Tonganoxie and see his herd of Holstein cattle at the dairy he owns with his brothers, Kerry and Terrence.
It is not that far in distance maybe an eighth of a mile or so but it is nearly a century from the dairy his grandfather built.
Thomas Holton Sr. started the dairy in 1906. His son, Thomas Holton Jr. later took it over, and his sons took it over after that.
It is a century of dedication. The Holton "boys" start their day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year at 3:30 a.m. The work continues until 8 p.m.
It is a century of change.
When Kevin Holton was growing up on the farm, he could look all around and see only a handful of houses. But now, new ranch houses dot the hillsides. The city limits have stretched ever closer to the Holton farm.
He agrees with current statistics that the Leavenworth County ranking in dairy production has slipped from fourth place to seventh.
"The main thing it's disappearing to in this county is housing," Holton said.
"The main thing that drives up the cost of ground is the value of housing compared to what you can afford to pay for agricultural usage," Holton said. "It's a no-brainer."
As he speaks, it is the afternoon milking hour and hired hands shepherd some of the 252 Holsteins into the milking barn and connect the udders to the milking machines. Within seconds, fresh milk gurgles into the units.
If it were possible, the Holtons might consider expanding their operation.
"We bought some land several years ago on the east side of the road," Holton said. "It was the only thing that was available around us. We're closed in."
He still says they paid too much for the land.
"We gave about twice what it's worth for agriculture," Holton said. "But it was a take-it-or-leave-it deal."
He expects the dairy production of Leavenworth County to continue falling.
"The older generations are ready to retire and get out," Holton said. "The younger generations aren't interested in it we're so close to Kansas City with other things available."
But other than a love for the work and their success with it, tax laws keep the Holtons in business.
"We can't afford to get out," Holton said. "There's a big difference between what you pay for the land and what you sell it for the IRS calls it capital gains."
The land was bought for agricultural purposes.
"We'd be selling it to put homes in," Holton said. "The difference would multiplied by at least 10 times."
His brother, Kerry agreed.
"I think you're looking at the last of the Mohicans," Kerry Holton said.
Therefore the work continues at least for Kevin Holton and his brothers who are finishing up the century their grandfather started.
Pausing from his afternoon chores, Kevin Holton added, "I think if we can squeeze 20 more years out of it, the show will be about over here."