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[s5] COLUMN: Indiana Agriculture Update from the Rural Caucus

It probably comes as no surprise to Hoosiers that agriculture is a critical part of our state’s economic future. Agriculture is a $26 billion industry in Indiana, employing 18 percent of our workforce. More than 15 million acres of our state are reserved for farmland.

Earlier this month, I met with several agricultural leaders and fellow colleagues at the Indiana General Assembly’s Rural Caucus meeting to hear an update on both the crop and livestock industries. I thought I would share some of that information with my constituents.

The effects of this year’s drought are a major issue, and Hoosier farmers are very concerned about this year’s yields. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is estimating the average corn yield in Indiana to be 100 bushels per acre this year, down from 146 bushels in 2011. However, the drought has also created a ripple effect across the agriculture industry as a whole. Indiana Pork Producers are concerned what feed costs will be for the 8 million head of swine produced in a year. A Beef Cattle Association official agreed, saying farmers don’t want beef to become a “special occasion meal.”

If Indiana agriculture was a topic on “Family Feud,” corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock would probably be the top four answers. While that may be the case, Indiana’s largest agriculture industry is actually forestry — in terms of jobs (130,000), wages ($1.2 billion) and impact on the economy ($17 billion). Hoosiers are employed in a variety of forestry jobs like logging, millwork and paper or furniture manufacturing. What’s more, Ray Moistner — executive director of the Indiana Hardwood Lumbermen’s Association — says our state has an opportunity to expand in this area as global wood supplies tighten. Since 2010, we’ve already quadrupled our hard wood shipments to China. In the future, Indiana — which has an abundance of trees and a wide variety of species — could also seek innovation in cardboard products as well as wood pellet and bio fuel production.

Also in discussion at the Rural Caucus was the U.S. Farm Bill. While it does contain help for farmers, the bill actually funds everything from conservation to rural development — with most of the money allocated for nutrition programs. In fact, more than 80 percent of Farm Bill spending will support food assistance programs like Indiana’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as “food stamps.”  Currently, Congress is taking its traditional August break, while the Farm Bill is stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives. You can bet it will be a huge topic of discussion in the coming months, as the 2008 Farm Bill will not cover losses from this summer’s drought.

These are a few of the topics that state leaders have discussed over the legislative interim, but there are also many more issues brought to the General Assembly’s attention through study committees. To learn more about the study committees, click here. I encourage constituents to learn more about the state legislature and Senate District 5 by visiting my virtual office at www.in.gov/Senator.Charbonneau or you can always email me at Senator.Charbonneau@iga.in.gov.