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November 16, 2013

Corn-growing trends hard to spot

Miami County sees agricultural acreage increase

The Miami County landscape has changed because of corn prices, with old pastures being plowed and woodlots being cleared.

Farmers there planted 7,000 more acres of corn last year than eight years prior, a figure which almost mirrors the increase in cultivated land in the county. Farmers there are farming more ground, and they’re mostly planting it with corn.

Farm specialists see a business cycle in operation.

As corn prices, driven by drought and the demands of the ethanol industry, soared to near $7 a bushel, livestock farmers were hurt and converted from independent operations into contractors for larger companies.

Timber lots looked a lot less attractive when prime farmland started selling for $10,000 an acre, according to resource conservationist Rick Duff of Miami County’s Soil & Water Conservation District.

“Basically, we’re either going to pay for high-priced fuel or we’re going to pay for high-priced food,” Duff said. “There’s only so much production we can get out of the ground right now.”

In north central Indiana, the increase in corn production doesn’t seem to have come at the cost of conservation acreage. In Howard, Tipton and Miami counties, the amount of acreage set aside for conservation has held steady or even grown slightly, even as more corn is planted.

“Most of these guys are conscientious farmers; on the whole, they’ve been working with us,” said Calvin Hartman, resource conservationist at the Howard County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Even so, Hartman agrees that woodlots and even some land farmers would deem marginal in terms of crop production potential have been converted.

“Right now, I hate to say this, but it’s a lot cheaper to clear land than it is to buy land,” Hartman said.

Miami, Howard and Tipton counties all appear to be traveling different paths when it comes to fueling the nation’s need for corn.

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