When Rob Richards heads out to his farm fields along State Road 37, he makes sure he is leaving well before rush hour when thousands of cars are headed to or from work and that his tractor isn’t competing for space with traffic headed to an Indiana University game.
Richards’ family farm is on State Road 37 in White River Township, but increasingly he’s had to plant his corn, soybeans and wheat in Morgan and Owen counties because shopping centers and subdivisions have replaced what used to be tillable acres in Johnson County.
The land his family planted in White River Township has decreased in size by about 16 percent in the past five years because of development, he said. Of land that Richards farms, he owns about 5 percent but leases the rest, he said.
This year, in Johnson County 116,458 acres of land, or about 56 percent of total acres, are planted with crops, such as corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum. Throughout central Indiana, other counties, including Hamilton, Hendricks and Marion, had about a third or less of their total acres planted, according to numbers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.
That agency serves 1,427 farms in the county. Ten years ago, that number was more than 1,600.
Disappearing farmland has been a trend for decades as property owners sell land to builders who construct houses or commercial developments, said Craig Dobbin, a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.
As more land is developed, farmers face more challenges, including maneuvering through traffic with large equipment, increased competition for less farmland and problems with suburban neighbors. Subdivisions near farm fields often have residents who complain of tractor noise and dust, as well as damage from pesticides that can kill residential gardens, Dobbins said.
Craig Morris’ family farm is in Bargersville, and the 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans he planted this year around Franklin, Whiteland and Bargersville were about 350 acres less than five years ago.
He owns 500 acres and leases the rest. He’s lost leased acreage as developers have bought land. With less land to farm, he’s had to compete with other farmers for land to lease.
Subdivisions and stores bring more cars, which makes it more difficult for farmers to move their tractors and other equipment from field to field, local farmers said.
When Morris drives a tractor or combine on Johnson County roads this fall, he notices the increased traffic and obstacles, such as mailboxes and utility poles, that weren’t everywhere when he started farming 25 years ago.
The roads have gotten busier, and Richards is farming farther from home, so travel has become an issue he has to plan for, he said.
He tries to plan so his equipment doesn’t have to vie for space on the road with heavy car traffic, Richards said.
“The biggest challenge is moving from field to field and doing so safely and minimizing interruption to local traffic,” he said.