Agriculture has been a dominant force in the economy of Wise County throughout its history. Although production has decreased in recent decades, the rural atmosphere and the idea of a farming and ranching lifestyle continue to draw people here from the Metroplex.
Large tracts of land are being divided, and land ownership changes more often now than it did in the early days.
Peanuts, once a primary crop, are scarce now, and melon farming has also been greatly reduced.
Cattle and sheep were prominent prior to the Civil War, and open-range ranching was the preferred method through the 1880s. Cotton farms began popping up in the 1870s.
Railroads were built through the county in the 1880s and 1890s, which facilitated easier transport of crops and livestock and made farming and ranching more profitable.
Even with the rise of coal mining in Bridgeport, agriculture still ruled the economy in Wise County in the early 1900s. Only 1 percent of residents lived in towns in 1900, according to “The Handbook of Texas Online.”
Livestock, wheat, corn and cotton were the primary agricultural products until overproduction of cotton depleted the soil, causing erosion problems.
By the 1920s, beef production and cotton farming were declining while dairy farms were on the rise.
Wise County was a major milk producer by 1949, but today only a handful of dairies are left.
According to “The Handbook of Texas Online,” 70 percent of the county’s residents still lived in rural communities in the early 1980s, and 79 percent of the land was devoted to farming and ranching. The Handbook says the most important products were grains, peanuts, dairy products, poultry and beef.
By 2007, primary agriculture products included beef cattle, dairy operations and hay and other crops, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s census. Goats, horses and sheep were also raised in Wise County.
There were 3,164 farms in 2007, and the average size was 140 acres. Most farms, 1,333, were 10 to 49 acres with beef being the primary product.
From 2002 to 2007, the number of farms increased, but the size of those farms (in acres) decreased.