The third week of March is a great time to celebrate National Agricultural Awareness Week, and draw attention to a diminishing class of people- farmers. Prospects for a new crop are just on the horizon.
Many counties will celebrate this week with low-cost breakfasts, displays at malls, programs for elementary school children and other festivities. The idea behind all these events is to create a connection between current farmers and the consumers they serve.
It's a connection that those in the trenches fighting daily battles with environmental and animal rights activists groups say needs to be strengthened dramatically, and soon. Both Wes Jamison, University of Florida, and Terry Etherton, Penn State University, say it's time for farmers to take the initiative, and not just stop at 'feel-good' events, but instead to step forward and tell their story all year-long. And livestock producers especially need to make no apologies for what they do- raising animals that become meat and protein sources for people all around the globe.
Stepping forward has always been difficult for many farm folk to do. And perhaps it wasn't as important in days gone by, when higher percentages of people lived and worked on the land. But to understand how farmers fare politically compared to urban residents these days, you need look no further than the recent battle over property tax reform in the Indiana legislature. Don Villwock, a farmer and president of Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., notes it was difficult to get the attention of legislators and have them address what rising property taxes might due to farmers when farmers make up such a small minority, compared to other voting blocks. After all, perhaps it was a crisis time for property tax reform, but it was also still an election year. Cows, pigs and thousands of acres of corn, soybeans and wheat don't vote- people do.
Here's a simple brainteaser that will illustrate just how much agriculture ahs changed in Indiana over the years. Thanks to the Indiana Ag Statistics Service, part of the National Ag Statistics Service under USDA, for supplying this information.
When was record high corn yield in Indiana set? What year?
When was record low corn yield set? How much?
Soybeans averaged 51.5 bushels per acre, an Indiana record, in what year?
The lowest soybean yield ever in Indiana occurred in what decade?
Oat acreage bottomed oat in '05. When did it peak?
Wheat acreage peaked in which decade?
The most acres of alfalfa hay ever grown in Indiana was in what decade?
The number of cattle and calves hit bottom in Indiana in what year?
The number of 'all hogs' in Indiana topped out in what decade?
The lowest number of chickens ever raised in Indiana occurred in what decade?
OK, here are the answers. Historians could determine dramatic changes in Indiana agriculture just from these numbers alone.
- 168 bushels per acre in 2004
- 22 bushels per acre in 1901- way, way back there!
- 51.5 bushels per acre in 2004, a good crop year in Indiana
- The 1920's- lowest average state yield ever- 9.9 bushels/acre
- Oats were a major player in the 1920's- when horses still pulled plows.
- Believe it or not, in the 'teens, 1919 to be exact. However, top yield (through 2006) was set in 2005 at 72 bushels per acre.
- In the 1950's, with the most ever recorded in 1956. It was the era of small livestock farms, many still with dairy herds
- Believe it or not, 2004, lowest since the stat was kept, beginning in 1867.
Numbers peaked in 1962.
- In the 1960's, 1961 to be exact, before big poultry operations mushroomed.
How well do you know your Indiana ag history? There's no better time to bone up on it and relate the success story of Indiana agriculture to your urban neighbors than this week, during National Ag Awareness week.