U.S. farmers just finished harvesting one of the largest corn crops in history. While Indiana yields were not record breakers, the production was significant and a tribute to our Hoosier corn heritage in this bicentennial year. Corn is Indiana’s largest cash crop worth over $4 billion annually. A lot of that corn ends up inside Indiana hogs, which is the largest livestock segment in the state. This, too, is part of the Hoosier agricultural heritage.
By the early 1800s, the frontier had moved west, and the basis of the Indiana agricultural economy was being laid by farmers who were settling here. Unlike Ohio, where settlers were coming in from the east, Indiana’s early farm population came up from the south. According to Purdue historian Doug Hurt, those farmers brought with them a tradition of growing corn and raising hogs.
By the 1820s, Indiana had a thriving hog and corn industry. Indiana’s river system proved to be a big reason for this. While in another hundred years Chicago would become the hog butcher of the world, in 1830 the market for pork was New Orleans. Packing plants doted the shores of the Wabash and Ohio rivers. Hog would be processed, preserved, and put in barrels that were taken downriver to New Orleans.
Today, Indiana’s river system remains a vital link to market for Indiana agriculture. However, corn has replaced pork as the primary product moving down river to New Orleans. However, the jobs and economic activity generated by this activity remain as important to Indiana’s growth and development as they did in the 1830’s. The sale of Indiana farm products equals $11.2 billion and Indiana ranks 10 in the nation in agricultural sales — not bad for a state with a relatively small land mass, 83% of which is dedicated for farm or forest land.
Of the 6.6 million people who call themselves Hoosiers, only a small percentage are involved in agriculture. Fewer still can trace their family tree back to an Indiana farm. So, as our state celebrates 200 years, it is important to highlight our agricultural heritage as well as the important role it plays in our state today.
By Gary Truitt