Look to past for future of farming

KPC News Service

Leaders plotting northeast Indiana’s future course seem to be looking back 100 years or more.

Recently in Roanoke, a meeting introduced the Northeast Indiana Regional Food Network study. One of its goals is to see more of us eating what we grow right here, instead of food shipped from across the country or around the world.

That’s how we used to do things. In many ways, we ought to be capable of doing it again.

Indiana ranks as a top-five state in producing corn, soybeans and hogs, according to a 2012 report by the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. At that time, Indiana stood fifth among the states in hog production, sixth in turkeys, seventh in eggs, 14th in dairy. That should be a good start on feeding ourselves locally.

The farm economy has changed in just three years since the study, however. Grain prices have returned from their unusual highs to a point where feeding grain to livestock again can be profitable.

Livestock production helps balance the area farm economy, as varied soils and hilly fields can make grain farming challenging when prices are closer to the historic, low norm. Farmers can produce added value by feeding the grain to livestock, benefiting the soils by replacing manufactured fertilizers with managed manure programs.

Northeast Indiana can take advantage of its strengths — such as its increasingly important adequate rainfall — to meet a growing opportunity to sell livestock products at home and around the world, says Andy Tauer of the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Corn Growers Association.

“With the demand for protein, they can invest in a new livestock barn to bring that next generation back to the farm,” Tauer said of local farmers.

By boosting local livestock production, farmers could cash in on northeast Indiana’s outstanding highway and railroad network to get their goods to consumers efficiently.

Hog farmers might not need to send their finished animals very far. A giant pork processing plant is under construction just north of Coldwater, Michigan. It’s expected to open in 2017 and process 10,000 hogs a day.

“Northeast Indiana has an opportunity to fill some of that need for the pork that goes into the processing plant,” Tauer said.

Instead of sending our raw goods across a state line, our region could get more involved in food processing. Or we could cut out the big food factories altogether by selling directly from farms to restaurants and supermarkets. That seems to be one goal of the Northeast Indiana Regional Food Network study.

For our region to become a bigger player in the food business, northeast Indiana residents will have to become as tolerant of farming operations as we have been of heavy industry over the past century.

We’ll have to find places on our landscape that can be reserved for farmers and say “no” to letting people crowd out agriculture in these places.

We’ll need to recognize that the current average age of our farmers is over 50, and that we cannot attract a new generation of bright, energetic farmers without promoting new opportunities.

We will need local leadership to explain the value of agriculture as an industry and balance environmental and lifestyle concerns, recognizing the complex state and federal regulation of livestock enterprises and manure management.

Today’s farmers are savvy business people who make big investments in technology and equipment. What they produce never goes out of style.

If northeast Indiana looks “back to the future” to emphasize agriculture and food production, it could be a very forward-looking strategy.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.