September 27, 2023

Agriculture defines the Wabash Valley.

“Agriculture in this area is big and it’s been big ever since people moved here,” said Tabby Flinn, the Purdue Extension’s Vigo County office’s Ag & Natural Resources (ANR) Extension Educator.

“Lots of people don’t realize everything that our corn and soybeans get put into,” she added. “A lot of the corn feeds cattle, but it also goes into things like the processed foods we get at the store and ethanol. Soybeans are the same. That’s a big, important part of what we do here in Vigo County.”

In 2022, 8,570,000 bushels of corn and 3,242,000 bushels of soybeans were harvested in Vigo County.

One of the area’s largest and most venerable farms is owned by the Harlan family and currently run by Jared Harlan.

“The Harlans are a big farming family and they’ve been here since forever,” Flinn said. “Indiana’s been here a while, but they’ve been here just about as long.”

She added, “I know them pretty well. They love farming, they love what they do. They like being in this county and the surrounding area, so they really appreciate the support they get from us.”

“Tradition is important — my father always wanted me to farm, and all I’ve known is agriculture,” Jared Harlan said. “My father died when I was young, and that had a pretty big impact on me.”

He added, “For me, farming is what I’ve done, it’s what I know. It’s just, that’s what you do. I farm the same grounds my father farmed, the same grounds my grandfather farmed.

“When I’m out planting or harvesting, it’s an amazing feeling to be in the tractor that’s farmed this land for years,” said Harlan, who added that the family recently started raising cattle again. “That’s your tradition and your legacy.”

Keeping farming in the family also means staying abreast of the latest agricultural trends.

“What also comes from multiple generations in farming is they always have their kids in 4-H, and when you’re in 4-H, you learn about all of the new available stuff that you can be doing on your farm,” Flinn said.

“So when those new generations come in, they’re bringing in that information and it’s helping keep the farm stable and growing because you’re getting new information that’s helping you grow better crops,” she added.

Jared Harlan presently has no heirs to pass his farm along to, but he’s only 24.

Flinn has worked at Purdue’s Extension office since 2016, becoming its ANR educator in 2020.

“My main purpose is to help farmers with any questions or issues they have, so previously this month, it was the drought and struggling with water for the crops,” she said. “And then we got inundated with all this water, so now it’s dealing with how we come out of that with our corn.”

Flinn said, “Not too many of them lost fields permanently.” A survey taken last Friday found the corn had been flattened, but, she noted, “corn is pretty resilient and most of it’s back up right now. The beans definitely needed the rain. They didn’t fare too badly, the crops are all right.”

Another way Flinn aids local farmers is by guiding their efforts with pesticides.

“I can advise them on different pesticides to use,” she said. “I also am the one who provides program credits for them to keep their license active when applying chemicals.”

Whereas “anybody can go to a big box store and buy chemicals off the shelf,” Flinn explained, “but if you are applying large-scale and a little bit heavier quality chemicals, you have to get a license. We do one [program] a year to help them keep their credits up.” Licenses are available for both private and commercial applicators.

The Wabash Valley has a handful of small organic farms, such as the relatively recent Kindred Roots, which use safer pesticides on their land. Kindred Roots is “really trying to ramp up organic farming in this area,” Flinn said.

“Organic farming has its pluses and minuses,” she added. “You’re not using those harsher chemicals, but that doesn’t mean you’re not using pesticides. Not using those chemicals means the fertilizer can be an issue, so you have to find organic fertilizer.”

But the payoff provides advantages for those who consume organic food.

“Fresh fruits and vegetables are way better for you than something that sits on a shelf,” Flinn said. “They’re about the same, but organic’s a little bit better because of the fertilizer they’re using. Because the fertilizer is coming from a natural source, they’re easily transported into those plants. No chemicals means healthier soil.”

Flinn assists beekeepers in the area, and is a beekeeper herself. She tries to create a peaceable kingdom between beekeepers and farmers using pesticides.

“We try to educate farmers when they come for the credits for their applicator license that you can tell the beekeepers that you’re going to spray and they will happily box their bees up for you,” she said. “They’ll lock them up and then you can spray and [afterwards] they’ll let them out. So it’s just a matter of telling them.”

Some farmers don’t understand that beekeepers are also contributing to the world of agriculture.

“That’s the real disconnect for farmers and beekeepers is there’s not a lot of communication between the two and farmers seem to think that beekeepers will be upset if they’re spraying,” said Flinn. “We’re not upset, we know you have to, so just tell us and everything will be fine.”

Vigo County’s 2022 agricultural data:

• 46,300 acres of corn planted

• 8,570,000 bushels of corn harvested

• 57,600 acres of soybeans planted

• 3,242,000 bushels of soybeans harvested

• 1,200 acres of wheat planted

• 61,200 bushels of wheat harvested

• 1,400 head of cattle

• 236 head of swine

• 289 head of sheep

• 1,075 head of poultry

• 20 beekeepers in the county

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