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Hoosier Farmers Reap Big Gains

This past September, when IM published The New Hoosier Farmers—an up-close look at the men and women shaping Indiana’s current agricultural landscape—the USDA was in the late stages of readying its latest five-year survey for public consumption.

A preliminary version of the 2012 Census of Agriculture is now available, released late last week. And while it confirmed much of what we anticipated based on reporting from other sources, it included some surprises as well.

As a group, Hoosier farmers have continued to enjoy remarkable success. Among all states, Indiana landed in the top 10 for both crop sales and total agricultural sales (a particularly remarkable feat considering that we measure in at a relatively puny 38th in geographic size). Between 2007 and 2012, the value of all agricultural products raised in Indiana grew by 34 percent, to more than $11.2 billion dollars—making 2012 the first census year in which Indiana farmers made 11 figures. The bountiful harvest was reaped in nearly equal measure by both croppers and livestock producers, with each group growing its sales by a quarter. (And the livestock industry in particular has worked hard since 2012 to solidify its economic success by pushing for favorable legislation in the Indiana General Assembly.)

The biggest gainers by far, though, were farmers at the top of the fiscal beanstalk. The number of operations with at least $1 million in sales increased by 56 percent, even as Indiana lost ground in the total number of farms (by more than 2,200) and acreage used for agriculture (by nearly 52,000 acres).

Women farmers, whose numbers had grown considerably in previous years, saw their ranks depleted by 10 percent. But their economic clout more than made up for it: The value of agricultural output from farms headed by women increased by nearly 60 percent. While active in far fewer numbers, another minority group, farmers of Hispanic origin, nevertheless enjoyed significant gains in Indiana’s agricultural economy, increasing their number by 27 percent and more than doubling the dollar value of their products. 

Although not directly represented in the 2012 census, another ag player highlighted in IM’s “New Hoosier Farmers” package continues to thrive as well. For 2013, Dow Chemical, led by Indianapolis-based subsidiary Dow AgroSciences—whose patented genetics are present in 80 percent of corn grown in the United States—reported 12-percent sales growth ($7.1 billion total) in agricultural sciences over the previous year. Earlier this week, BioCrossroads announced that, overall, the life-sciences industry contributed $55 billion to the state economy in 2012, and Indiana’s $9.7 billion in exports in the sector made us second only to California. Which proves that not everything is bigger in Texas (which fell behind the Hoosier State in the national rankings for the first time).

Read about The New Hoosier Farmers here.

Photos by Tony Valainis


Since first joining Indianapolis Monthly in 2000, West has written about a wide range of subjects including crime, history, arts and entertainment, pop culture, politics, and food. His feature stories have twice been noted in the Best American Sports Writing anthology and have received top honors from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The Collapse,” West’s account of the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy, was a 2013 National City and Regional Magazine Awards finalist in the category of Best Reporting. He lives on the near-east side.