By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor
(The Center Square) – Indiana lawmakers have approved a bill that would create a committee to study how farmland can be preserved in the state.
House Bill 1132 passed the Senate unanimously. The bill, authored by state Rep. Kendell Culp, R-Rensselaer, calls for creating a Land Use Task Force. The 13-member panel would include representatives from both General Assembly chambers, industry leaders and other key stakeholders.
In a statement, Culp said the task force would investigate how Indiana is growing and how communities can balance business attraction and expansion with farmland preservation.
We all know the importance agriculture plays in this state,” Culp said. “It’s an economic driver in many of our local communities with great financial impact on our state and nation. Now is the time for us to better understand and balance these trends for future use in our rural, urban and suburban communities.”
The task force would also study food insecurity issues across the state. It would submit a report to the General Assembly, which would review them and consider action on any recommendations the 13-member panel issues.
According to the Indiana Department of Agriculture, farming contributes more than $35 billion to the state’s economy. However, there are concerns that future development could undercut the industry statewide.
According to the American Farmland Trust, the state is expected to develop more than 451,000 acres of farmland from 2016 to 2040. That’s if development practices remain the same.
If there’s more sprawl, more than 602,000 acres could be lost. However, by taking proactive steps to protect farmland, the state could reduce the amount of land lost to less than 260,000 acres.
The difference between the low- and high-end numbers works out to 1,600 farms, 3,300 farm jobs and nearly $200 million in agricultural production.
HB 1132 now heads to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for his review. The governor also has another bill from Culp on his desk. House Bill 1557 calls on state agriculture officials to survey the amount of farmland lost from 2010 to last year and the causes of those losses.
Should Holcomb sign both bills, Culp believes the task force would use the HB 1557 study in determining its recommendations.