Yesterday, our newspaper featured a front page article entitled "FOR
RENT: FARMLAND," indicating that for the first time in history, more Indiana
farmland is being rented (52%) than is farmed by its owners. In Illinois,
62% of farmed land is rented. And those figures are based on 1992 census
One farmer whose family farm dates back to 1847 said that he rented
his 518 acre farm to another farmer because he (the owner) could not achieve
the efficiency of his new tenant. "His cost of production is far below
mine," he said. The tenant farmer owns 4000 acres and rents 5000 more.
An interesting comparison was made by the spokesman for the farm
management company who was interviewed. He said (in response to the fact
that some farmers rent 100% of their farmed ground), "I don't see that as a
negative; Walmart tends to rent or lease most of their buildings."
The article goes on to say that as late as the 1960's, 240 acre
family farms were common. Professional farm management companies now say
1,200 acres is needed. Good farmland costs $3000/acre to purchase. One
Illinois farmer farms upwards of 40,000 acres (the figures vary in different
accounts) in Illinois and Indiana and is paying cash rents above
$200/acre/year in several areas.
Where will this end? How much stewardship of land resources can
exist in this bottom-line driven mode? Mining soil health and exporting soil
do not add up to cheap food. The full cost of production will be borne by
future generations. Yet, what farmer will risk cutting inputs, and settle
for lower yields, in this high stakes race?
One can now understand why we are so frantic to develop agricultural
systems that sustain families on reasonably sized farms (arbitrarily, 40 to
500 acres). Although census figures show 63,000 Indiana farms, there are
only about 10,000 full time farmers in the state.
Maybe Gene Logsdon has it right -- this train is eventually going to
derail and we'll regroup as family farms. I still believe that our efforts
to build local and regional food systems will provide the infrastructure for
future agriculture. (Who cares what is local?; it is only as big as it needs
to be for any given area.)
Steve Bonney, President
Indiana Sustainable Agriculture Association
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette IN 47906
(317) 463-9366, fax (317) 497-0164