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Indiana’s largest farm group takes long-term view on policy

Tom J. Bechman wind turbine being built
LOCAL CONTROL FOR ZONING: Indiana Farm Bureau members tell leaders they want local control for things such as zoning ordinances for alternative energy options, like wind and solar.
Indiana Farm Bureau drafts long-term strategy heading into the 2022 legislative session.

The goals that Indiana’s largest farm organization hopes to achieve during a legislative session are usually specific. Indiana Farm Bureau was instrumental in achieving real property tax reform for agriculture in 2016, helping secure funding for rural broadband projects, and obtaining changes in statutes in 2020 so that members had more health care options.

“This year, members stepped back and took a broader view when developing policy,” says Jeff Cummins, associate director for policy engagement. “Instead of seeking specific actions through the Legislature in the ’22 short session, we will look to establish the framework to move forward on three main fronts during the next few years.”

Think of them as three “policy buckets,” Cummins explains. They are:

  1. rural viability
  2. energy-related issues
  3. tax policy

In nearly every case, there is a state component, but there is also a federal component.

The three areas Indiana Farm Bureau members identified through policy discussions encompass a large portion of hot-button issues affecting agriculture today. In one way or another, they will affect you at the farm gate over the next few years. Here’s a closer look.

Rural viability. Preliminary results from the 2020 census reveal the population in rural areas is declining across the country, not just in Indiana.

“It’s going to affect many issues, including redistricting to determine who represents rural Hoosiers,” Cummins says. He expects rural districts to cover more physical area, since fewer people are living in rural Indiana. That means it will become an even tougher challenge to make sure agriculture’s voice is heard during major policy debates.

The doughnut counties around Indianapolis are still growing, according to the last census. In fact, some of these counties, including Hamilton, Boone and Johnson, are among the fastest-growing counties anywhere. But once you move deeper into the state, the trend is clear — more people are moving out of rural areas, Cummins says.

The implications for maintaining basic services such as health care and public education in rural communities where population is declining will be challenging moving forward.

Energy-related issues. If the 21st century is about shifting from fossil fuel energy sources to renewable energy sources over time, there will be plenty to talk about here, Cumming observes. New sources of energy — including electric vehicles, hydrogen power, solar and wind — could become more mainstream.

As these shifts occur, policies and regulations will need to be formulated and adopted to handle such major shifts.

“We’re going to emphasize the importance of local control as zoning ordinances and new regulations are developed for all of these alternative energy sources,” Cummins says. “Our members tell us local control is critical as these energy options develop.”

Tax policy. Federal control over such things as stepped-up basis for real estate and maintaining regulations that allow families to pass farms from one generation to the next are crucial to this discussion.

“We’re hopeful right now that the gains which have been made in these areas recently will be left in place,” Cummins says. “It’s an area that we will watch closely.”

On the state level in the short term, there may be interest in reducing taxes in some form. Cummins notes that Indiana Farm Bureau will work with legislators as legislative plans unfold to do what’s right by farmers long term.

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