HURRICANE, W.Va. -- Fred Whitt has watched Putnam County change over the years from acres of sprawling farmland to the mostly residential area it is today.
The owner of Whitt's Farm Supply in Hurricane, which started selling Southern States brand merchandise in 1958, said for the past few decades his business has been forced to transition from a farm supply store to more of a lawn and garden center.
"We used to have a whole lot more," Whitt, 56, of Hurricane, said, referring to the farm supplies his store stocks. "But clientele died off from generations just not farming."
Approaching its 90-year anniversary, Southern States Cooperative, the Richmond, Va.- based agricultural retail supplier, has been operating stores and cooperatives and supplying private dealerships with merchandise in West Virginia since 1941.
And despite a drop in the number of farms throughout the state over the years, and last year's warm winter, which impacted the agricultural supplier's sales, "we're just as strong in West Virginia as we've ever been," said Turner Gravitt Jr., director of corporate events, member relations and government affairs for Southern States.
On Tuesday, Whitt's will hold his annual meeting at 8 p.m. at the John Henson Senior Center in Hurricane to update customers about the future of his store. A representative from Southern States Cooperative Inc. will be on hand to describe the condition of that company.
Whitt's Farm Supply is a private dealer of Southern States products that uses the company as a manufacturing and wholesale resource.
"Most of our [business] now is from small farmers with anywhere from 10 to 25 head of cattle," Whitt said. "But we're more urban, so it's mainly lawn and garden now."
Farming has declined statewide during the past 50 years.
In 1950, Putnam County had nearly 1,900 operating farms, but that number had tumbled to 625 in 2007, when the most recent data was collected. Similarly, West Virginia reported a loss of farms from 81,434 in 1950 compared to around 24,000 in 2007.
Still, West Virginia leads the nation in the number of family farms, according to Scott Lemmons, deputy director with the West Virginia Field Office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.