The Portsmouth Area Chamber of Commerce has been honoring local farmers and farming families since 1957 with an annual Business and Farmers Banquet, during which they have chosen one farmer that has made exceptional contributions to area agriculture. This year, the guest of honor was John Fetters of Minford. Fetters was named the 2017 Farmer Citizen of the Year.
Fetters says he knew that he wanted to be a farmer as early as junior high. Though there were no large farms in his family, Fetters’ grandfather raised a few strawberries. Growing up, Fetters’ had always enjoyed visiting his grandfather’s farm and helping in anyway he could.
“I was just always intrigued by the idea of farming,” Fetters’ explained.
Despite his eagerness to get out in the field, Fetters’ mother was eager for him to go to college. By high school, the young man had figured out his path. One of his high school teachers had given his some information about Ohio State University’s (OSU) agricultural program.
“I didn’t even know there was a College of Agriculture,” Fetters stated.
At OSU, John earned a degree in vocational agriculture and graduated in 1971. With hard work as a part of his programming, Fetters was already farming while in school. In college, Fetters was learning the latest approaches and the science supporting them. He gained in both knowledge and experience so that by the time he finished school, he was prepared to lead in the industry. The contributions he has since made to both his field and community seem limitless.
Fetters went to dedicate 11 years of his life to teaching junior high and high school science while also working on a farm that his parents had bought. Always busy and always serving, Fetters also went to work for the Agriculture Conservation and Stabilization Service, which later became the Farm Service Agency, in 1968. He went on to serve in various roles from measuring tobacco to becoming office manager to serving as the County Executive Director (CED). Fetters has served as CED for Lawrence, Scioto and Greenup (Ky.) counties. In this position, Fetters was able to once again integrate his education and his farming experience in a way that would make significant changes to farming. He would travel to Washington, DC where he worked on software to assist with workloads, accounting, crop reporting and various other requirements of the business side of running a farm.
Back on the farm, Fetters has ventured and succeeded in various farming projects. He has raised crops including soy beans, corn, sorghum, tobacco and hay and has raised livestock including beef cattle, bucket calves and feeder pigs. Of all those, Fetters was naturally inclined to favor a challenge.
“I’ve always enjoyed raising bucket calves,” Fetters commented. “One of the troubles with raising bucket calves is getting them to survive.”
Bucket calves are those which are “bottle fed” since birth. However, more commonly, they nurse from a bucket with several artificial nipples for feeding multiple calves at once. Though they are difficult to raise, Fetters explained that he raised a head of 100 and only lost one.
Fetters further added that he enjoyed bucket calves so greatly because there were continually new ideas coming out about how to feed them. Fetters enjoyed studying the science behind successful new approaches. He also enjoyed implementing the most up-to-date research through the development of practices used on his own farm.
This lifetime farmer spent 67 years on the job before being forced to relax a bit due to some health issues. Four years ago, Fetters was diagnosed with non-alcoholic Cirrhosis of the liver. He continued to work for another two years. However, Fetters has some new hope to get back out. Three months ago, he underwent a liver and kidney transplant and is healing well. His doctors have told him that it could be six months before he felt like doing much, but that does not destroy his excitement. Still, it will be important for him to do less.
“The farming will be reduced to gardening,” wife Sue Fetters joked.
Even now in retirement, John is continually helping other area farmers, who call on him for his knowledgeable insights. The lifestyle is just something he can never give up.
“It’s just in your blood,” John stated. “If you like to do it, you like to do it.”
Part of that dedication is because of the importance he sees in continuing small farms.
“It’s bigger, bigger and bigger,” John said about how the industry has changed. “The small guys are just getting wiped out.”
He has seen some many farms disappear. John explained that he remembers a time when Bennett Schoolhouse Road had several farms, and each had a small dairy. He says there are now only a few dairies in the entire county. Decreased local farms is a problem according to John.
“They generate a lot of income for the community,” John stated before addressing what may be an ever bigger problem. “Small farms provide somewhat of a safety net. If a big farm fails, they can collectively help to fill the gap.”
With a lifetime of accomplishments, John still fails to see just how impactful he has been.
“I was surprised I got it,” he said about being named Farmer of the Year.
The Chamber is excited to be able to recognize the work of guys like John.
“It’s an honor to still be able to honor the farming family,” Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lisa Carver said. “We still see their importance—their importance to the community and their importance to the business community. They keep our economy going just like the businesses do.”
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930