Walk around any farm show, including the one in Louisville this week, beginning tomorrow, the National Farm Machinery Show, and you will see huge equipment, form 24-row planters to 1,000 bushel plus grain carts, and combines with up to 40-foot heads. But you'll also see attachments for tractors with 50 horsepower or less, and whole new lines of implements in the short line game. Even John Deere, the maker of big farm equipment, has spun off another line, Frontier, catering primarily to smaller or more cost-conscious farming operations.
It's no secret you find both bigger and smaller equipment at these shows. The U.S. ag census, just recently released, confirms that the number of farms in Indiana of 2,000 acres or more increased 30% from the last census five years earlier. But the number of small, niche or hobby farms, the farms that support 50-horpsower or smaller tractors with appropriately-sized implements, increased 79%. The group that is losing ground are the people that farm from 50 to 1,999 acres. That trend was recognized the last time the census was taken, and it has intensified according to data collected this time around.
Greg Preston, head of the Indiana Ag Statistics Service, believes there's a reason why farms are either increasing and moving out of the middle-sized category, or reverting to the smaller size category. The owner of a mid-size grain farm either needs to find more income by adding acres and/or livestock, or find off-farm employment. And the person with off-farm employment who wants to farm on the side can develop a niche operation on a few acres that still pulls in a considerable chunk of income. Specialty crop farming and rotational grazing of dairy and/or beef cattle fit into this specialty range of ag production.
Overall, there are 1% more farms in Indiana now then there were five years ago. Nationally, the number of farms and ranches increased by 4%, to 2.2 million. The number of farms had declined steadily across the U.S. since World War II.
The overall amount of farmland actually farmed in Indiana decreased by 2% since '02, despite the modest increase in the number of farms carrying out production on those acres. Development is likely to blame for the slight but steady decrease in total acres. And perhaps surprisingly, the average size of the Indiana farm actually decreased, if by only 3%. The average size, according to the government definition of a farm, is 242 acres. The census numbers show that Indiana has 60,398 farms, or near 650 per county,. Obviously, many of these are small operations.