By Stan Maddux
INDIANAPOLIS – State lawmakers want to know exactly how much farmland has been lost in Indiana over the past decade or so.
The Indiana Senate on March 20 voted 47-2 to send House Enrolled Act 1557 to the governor for his signature after the measure was supported unanimously in the House of Representatives.
The proposed legislation directs the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) to conduct an inventory of all farmland lost in the state from 2010 to 2022 and list the reasons it was taken out of food production.
The findings, along with any recommendations designed to curb future losses, must be submitted to the General Assembly for review by July 1, 2024.
Supporters of the measure want to know if any risks to food security and the state’s agriculture industry now exist from the loss of farmland.
The bill was sponsored by State Rep. Kendell Culp (R-16th district).
“This measure is about looking out for our local farmers, agriculture industry and Indiana’s ability to continue producing what it needs well into the future,” Culp said. Culp is a grain and livestock producer, vice chairman of the House Environmental Affairs Committee and vice president of the Indiana Farm Bureau.
“I understand the impact that agriculture has on the state’s economy and that every acre of Hoosier farmland counts. We have to protect this great asset if we want to secure Indiana’s success,” he said.
According to the ISDA, farming contributes an estimated $35 billion to the state’s economy. Indiana is the eighth largest exporter in the U.S. of goods linked to farming and the tenth largest agriculture state, according to ISDA.
State Sen. Mike Bohacek (R-8th district) said he doesn’t believe there are any major food or farmland shortage alarm bells going off.
Bohacek said the bill has more to do with simply wanting to find out how much farmland is still out there and why it’s no longer in production. He said another reason for an inventory is to see if there’s a need for the legislature to get involved to reverse any disturbing trends.
Bohacek said loss of farmland is often from development. However, it’s good to know whether lately it has more to do with commercial, residential or industrial growth, and if other reasons such as lack of productivity or changes in zoning are now larger parts of the picture.
“We just want to see what’s going on,” he said.
Bohacek said he’s especially curious to find out how much of a factor wind and solar farm developments play in taking farmland out of production because of the continued push for more clean, renewable energy.
“Things have changed a little bit in the last dozen years, so I think maybe it’s a good time to take a peek at it,” he said.
According to the American Farmland Trust, the amount of farm acreage reported statewide has fallen from 19.6 million in 1950 to 14.9 million based on the last Census of Agriculture in 2017.
Bohacek said any solutions that might be necessary could involve government from the federal to the grass roots level. Incentives for getting farmland back into production could be one of the answers to any major problems that might be identified in the study.
Bohacek said a farmland inventory would be no different than a warehouse or some other private company finding out how much product remains in stock.
“I think to look at farmland in the same way is probably pretty forward thinking,” he said.