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Study shows more than 340,000 acres of Indiana farmland gone

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(The Center Square) – Indiana lost nearly 2% of its farmland over 12 years. That’s according to a legislative-directed study by state agricultural officials.

The inventory conducted by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture determined the acreage of parcels devoted to farming fell by a net total of 345,682 acres to slightly less than 18 million acres. With 640 acres in a square mile, that works out to slightly more than 540 square miles lost from 2010 to 2022.

For comparison purposes, Greene County, just west of Bloomington in southwestern Indiana, is the state’s fourth-largest county by land area at 542.5 square miles.

“Lost farmland raises many concerns for the future of Indiana and our food security,” said state Rep. Kendell Culp, the Rensselaer Republican who wrote the 2023 law requiring the study. “With this data, we can begin discussions on the impacts growing communities have on farming operations and how to sustain economic development while maintaining a strong food supply chain.”

More than 370,000 acres of farmland were converted for residential purposes over the 12 years. However, state officials also found about 328,000 acres of residential land became classified for agricultural use, indicating a net loss of about 42,000 acres.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed Indiana gained more than 340,000 residents between 2010 and 2022.

“As a farmer, I understand the importance of Hoosier agriculture, but I also know we are a growing state both in terms of our population and economy,” said state Rep. Michael Aylesworth, the Hebron Republican who chairs the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. “Hopefully, this data can spur important conversations and solutions that we need to protect Indiana farmland while continuing to promote strategic economic growth.”

The biggest decrease came from farmland now identified for “other” uses, such as shrubbery or barren fields. That led to a net loss of roughly 47,000 acres.

Despite the shrinkage, state officials noted production of key crops actually increased significantly over the period studied. Indiana farmers grew nearly 600 million bushels of corn in 2012. A decade later, farmers harvested more than a billion bushels. Similarly, the state’s soybean growers increased their output by about 49%, going from almost 219 million bushels to more than 326 million.

The ISDA was unable to account for one type of use in its impact on farmland: solar energy. Agriculture officials relied on data from the state Department of Local Government Finance and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create its findings. The report stated that the DLGF includes uses like renewable energy in its counting for farmland.

Many farmers have said they’ve been approached by solar energy developers in recent years. The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission reports that 7,611 acres are being utilized for solar energy, and more than 19,000 acres are currently being developed for panels. In addition, the state Municipal Power Agency controls 1,483 acres for solar use.

“Since the focus of the report is on lost farmland, it’s important to note ISDA is unable to conclude that a solar project was or is being built on farmland,” the report stated. “There is no available data to identify the total amount of solar built on farmland.”

State agriculture officials have recommended the General Assembly pass a bill requiring the ISDA to take an inventory every five years. They also want lawmakers to talk with county leaders about steps to preserve farmland, and they are asking lawmakers to consider establishing thresholds to determine when farmland losses begin to threaten food security.

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