INDIANAPOLIS — The operators of more than 2,000 Indiana farms — many of them among the state's smallest farming operations — called it quits between 2007 and 2012, according to a new government report on America's agriculture industry.
Preliminary data released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture reveal that Indiana had 58,695 farms in 2012, for a decline of 2,243 farms, or nearly 4 percent, from 2007.
Census numbers show Indiana had added about 640 farms between 2002 and 2007, for a 1 percent increase over that 5-year period.
The new report is based on data from the USDA's latest Census of Agriculture, which is conducted every five years. The full 2012 census report will be released in May, with detailed county-level data for the entire nation.
Chris Hurt, an agricultural economist at Purdue University, said the limited report released Thursday was a surprise because it showed that the 2,200-plus decline in Indiana farms over the 5-year period was driven largely by the state's tiniest farms. He said those farms are generally the type that have helped meet consumers' growing demand for locally grown foods.
"Those very small farms were really dominant in the loss of farms," he said. "I'm a little surprised by that because of the local foods movement, the desire for freshness, the desire for maybe having home production, of chickens for example."
The report shows that about 3,100 Indiana farms between 1 and 9 acres — the report's smallest farm category — ceased production over the 5-year period, for 32 percent decline in that category. That left the state with just 6,600 such farms in 2012.
While Indiana's farm industry did well from 2007 to 2012, despite the impact of the economic downturn over that period, Hurt said it's possible that Indiana's smallest farms were hard-hit by the economic turmoil. He said the full Census of Agriculture report could shed more light what factors were behind the small farm closures.
Indiana's farm in the next size category — 10 to 49 acres — grew in number by about 1,200 farms, while those of 50 to 179 acres, added about 400 farms, the data show.
Hurt said farms surveyed by the census report must have produced or sold at least $1,000 of farm goods in 2012.
The new report also showed that while the number of Indiana farms shrank, the size of the remaining operations grew, from 242 acres in 2007 to 251 acres in 2012. It also shows that Indiana had 14.7 million farm acres in 2012, about 53,000 acres fewer than in 2007.
Kyle Cline, the national policy advisor for Indiana Farm Bureau, said a multistate study the group was involved in showed that more farmers were putting some of their land in conservation or wetland reserve programs.
Cline said the rise in participation in those programs could account for some of Indiana's decline in its farm acreage.