Indiana losing hundreds of farms a year

The sun sets over a cornfield in Morgan Township.

Indiana has lost 2,046 farms over the last five years — an average of more than 400 a year — as farmers are getting older and farm incomes are shrinking, according to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture.

The Hoosier state had 56,649 farms in 2017, accounting for 65 percent of the state's land but a tiny fraction of its workforce. The average farm size increased by 5 percent to 264 acres between 2012 and 2017, with more than 94,000 farmers statewide.

The average age of farmers rose from 53.8 years in 2012 to 55.5 years in 2017, according to the census data. Net farm income shrank from $52,861 in 2012 to $50,171 in 2017.

Overall, Indiana produced $11 billion worth of agricultural products in 2017, or about 2.8 percent of the $389 billion worth of agricultural production in the United States. The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates Indiana is in the top 10 nationwide for total agricultural products sold.

“The value of agricultural production has more than doubled over the past two decades in Indiana,”  Indiana State Department of Agriculture Director Bruce Kettler said. “This census sheds light on Indiana's agricultural footprint, historically and economically, and we can use this data to support farmers and drive our strategic efforts in the state.”

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Just 8,700 large farms, producing more than $250,000 worth of crops a year, accounted for 87 percent of the state's agricultural output. An estimated 38,900 farms made under $50,000 a year, contributing just 2.9 percent to the state's overall agricultural sales.

Still, more than 23,000 new and beginning farmers started tilling the soil in 2017, and minority-operated farms have increased.

“We are seeing a trend of diversity in agriculture, and I couldn’t be more proud to see the significant jump of women and minorities involved in this industry,” said Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, who serves as the state's secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development. “Agriculture has always been Indiana’s calling card and the backbone of our economy. As we plan for the future, I look forward to working alongside our farmers, as they continue to feed and fuel our world.”

In 2017, Indiana produced $6.7 billion worth of grains, oilseeds, dry beans and dry peas, $1.3 billion worth of poultry and eggs, $1.3 billion worth of hogs and pigs, $708 million worth of dairy milk, and $510 million worth of cattle and calves.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.