Corn is a powerhouse in the Hoosier State. From fueling consumers’ hungry tummies to powering blended ethanol NASCAR cars to growing jobs, the hardy crop is a driving and sustainable force in Indiana’s agriculture industry. Ranked fifth in the U.S. for corn production, Indiana farmers planted nearly 6 million acres in 2014 with more than 1 billion bushels produced. The average yield was 184 bushel per acre.
The demand for corn is a critical stimulus for the state’s economy, says Chris Hurt, professor of agriculture economics at Purdue University.
“Corn is king for Indiana in most years,” he explains. “Since 2005, corn acres grew until 2012, largely because of corn used for ethanol. Indiana farm revenues for corn in 2013 hit nearly $5 billion. That means it takes a lot of inputs to raise corn: seed, fertilizer, chemicals, fuel and equipment. Along with storage capacity and transportation services, that translates into jobs and economic activity.”
Ask corn producer Mike Shuter of Frankton his priority for passing his farm to his children and grandchildren, and he’ll quickly respond conservation and sustainability. “We are as conservation-minded as we can be,” he says. “We are trying to be good stewards and demonstrate that to our grandchildren.”
Shuter, who has been involved with the Indiana Corn Growers Association (ICGA) for 25 years and helped rejuvenate the corn checkoff in 2007 through the Indiana Corn Marketing Council, implements conservation practices like ditching, grass waterways and filter strips around streams.
“We also plant cover crops on everything to improve soil health and keep fertility strong,” Shuter says. “We are grateful for every opportunity we have to farm sustainably.”
Ethanol Boosts Value
Corn energizes more than our dietary lifestyle. It is the chief component in blended ethanol that fuels the NASCAR series in Indiana.
NASCAR began running on Sunoco Green E15 fuel – an ethanol/oil blend – in 2011, an effort to demonstrate the efficiency and effectiveness of a fuel that could also be used in all cars and light duty trucks manufactured in 2001 or newer.
“Six million miles have been raced on Sunoco Green E15 in Indiana,” says Ken Parrent, ICGA’s director of biofuels. “In addition to being known as the racing capital of the world, we in Indiana have also earned a reputation as an important ethanol hub for our country. We rank sixth in ethanol production, boast 12 operating ethanol plants, and know from our recent study that more than 4,100 full-time jobs and $232 million in labor income are supported by the state’s ethanol industry.”
From the 2006 to the 2012 crops, the growth of ethanol and China’s growing demand for soybeans meant the U.S. demand was growing faster than supply, according to Hurt.
“Farmland values and rents rose sharply, and a golden era of farm income was the result, a period of rural revitalization. Ethanol was the biggest single impact to the better economic times for the Indiana farm sector in the form of higher land values.”