State Sen. Jean Leising
It probably comes as no surprise to Hoosiers that agriculture is a
critical part of our state's economic future. Agriculture, in fact, is a
$26 billion industry in Indiana, employing 18 percent of our workforce.
At a recent meeting of the Indiana General Assembly's Rural Caucus, I sat
down with local ag leaders to hear an update on both the crop and
livestock industries. There are many farm myths circulating in our state Ñ
some that have made recent headlines Ñ and I took the opportunity to get
them cleared up.
Myth #1: Indiana's agriculture industry is solely focused on corn and
False. Agriculture is considered Indiana's largest market. Of course, corn
and soybean production and exports do make up a huge part of that market.
However, you might be surprised to learn forestry is our largest
agriculture industry 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 Ñ executive director of the Indiana Hardwood
Lumbermen's Association Ñ 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 Ñ
which has an abundance of trees and a wide variety of species Ñ could also
seek innovation in cardboard products as well as wood pellet and bio fuel
Myth #2: The sale of raw milk is an ongoing debate in Indiana.
True. Currently, it's illegal to sell raw milk in Indiana because of
public health concerns. The Food and Drug Administration as well as
Centers for Disease Control officials recommend drinking only pasteurized
milk, because raw milk may contain harmful bacteria that can cause
life-threatening diseases. However, some have called for Indiana's law to
be reconsidered. Until Sept. 1, the State Board of Animal Health (BOAH) is
hosting an online public hearing for Indiana residents to voice their
opinions about the sale of raw milk. Nearly 600 comments have been
collected so far at http://www.in.gov/boah/2615.htm. Ideas can also be
mailed to IN State Board of Animal Health, Attn: Raw Milk Comments,
Discovery Hall Suite 100, 1202 E. 38th Street, Indianapolis, IN, 46205.
BOAH is surveying licensed dairy farms in Indiana as well and will make a
report on the public comments and surveys to the Indiana General Assembly.
Myth #3: The hog virus that recently surfaced at local fairs and the State
Fair is the same as H1N1 Ñcommonly known as the "Swine Flu."
False. The "Swine Flu" that you've seen in headlines recently is not the
same as H1N1 Ñ which created a big stir in Indiana a few years ago.
Instead, this hog virus Ñ a different kind of flu Ñ is H3N2. It's not a
food safety issue, nor have BOAH officials found that it's spread through
human-to-human contact. All indications show it's transmitted from pigs to
those who spend the most time with them. Some farmers believe people could
have actually spread the virus to the pigs first.
Myth #4: The recent extreme heat and drought only affects Indiana's crop
False. It's true the drought has hit our crop farmers extremely hard.
These Hoosiers are very concerned about this year's yields, with groups
like the Indiana Corn Growers Association and the Indiana Soybean Alliance
citing the drought as their number-one issue for 2012. 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. One Indiana Pork Producer representative noted feed
availability for livestock Ñ impacted negatively by the drought Ñ is a
problem at this time. (Did you know there are approximately 8 million pigs
raised each year in Indiana?) A Beef Cattle Association official agreed,
saying farmers don't want beef to become a "special occasion meal."
Myth #5: The U.S. Farm Bill only supports farmers.
False. Because of its name, most people think the "Farm Bill" is only an
agricultural aid package. While it does contain help for farmers, it
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." ÊCurrently, 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
Myth #6: Because Indiana is made up of many rural areas, most state
lawmakers live in rural communities.
False. According to research by one Indiana-based company, 29 state
senators live in municipalities while 14 have homes within a two-mile
fringe of municipalities. That means 86 percent do not live in rural
areas. (Of course, we know some rural areas could be located just outside
of that two-mile radius.) Additionally, of the 100 state representatives,
66 live in municipalities with 22 living within the two-mile fringe.
That's why we created Indiana's Rural Caucus four years ago, so
legislators living outside of rural communities can become familiar with
important agriculture issues that might affect Hoosiers in their districts.