URBANA -- For years, farmers in Green Valley, Monrovia and Urbana have been planning to scale back on crops and livestock to make room for houses.
Now, for another two to five years, the reverse is true -- some are gearing up to plant crops on land that had been planned for homes.
A number of factors account for the switch. Homes aren't selling as fast and at least one big residential developer, Toll Brothers, is withdrawing from contracts involving several Urbana farmers.
Some farmers are trying to make ends meet until they can realize profits from future developments.
Dairy farmer Mike Wilcom, for example, said Thursday his 168-acre Green Valley farm will be part of the Monocacy Town Center development, which includes shops and 1,600 homes for people 55 and older. Md. 80 will be widened at the intersection of Md. 75 and drivers will be able to access the shops from Md. 80.
The land has been surveyed, but Wilcom won't be paid until the houses are built, and that won't happen for three to five years, he said. The project is waiting on public water and sewer.
Because of its slow pace, instead of planning his retirement, Wilcom is growing corn and rye -- even though the revenue doesn't compare to what he will get from the houses.
"Ain't no money in it," he said. "You'd be better off developing."
Eddie Mercer farms more than 3,500 acres, including two parcels on Park Mills and Thurston roads that are owned by Natelli Communities, the largest developer in Urbana. He confirmed development has slowed.
"The ground we rent from Natelli, we might have for longer," Mercer said. "The community isn't going to stretch out as fast."
A few days ago, Mercer's men were spraying thistles to keep weeds from growing off Tabler Road. Robert "Doc" Wilcom wondered if they were going to farm the land.
He had been leasing 62 acres on Tabler Road from Natelli Communities for years, but his lease expired in January.
The arrangement suited him because he expected to sell his farm to Toll Brothers. That deal now appears shaky and Doc Wilcom is looking again for land to rent.
"Our lease arrangement with Doc Wilcom has ended, so I guess he won't be doing any farming on the property," Natelli Communities' manager Rick Boyle wrote in an e-mail Thursday. "It makes sense, since there will be development activity on portions of that property within the next year."