Crop Diversity in East Central Indiana:
An Historical Perspective

Les Smith
Department of Landscape Architecture
Ball State University
Alternative crop and value-added ventures may offer the agricultural community potential for increased profits while diversifying farm operations and diminishing dependence on federal crop programs. However, discovering which alternative crops and ventures are appropriate and viable remains a difficult question. Historically, the east central Indiana landscape supported a wide range of crops which served not only the local communities but an export market as well.

This project documents the historical production of the crops and marketable farm items identified in historic records from 1860 to 1940. The project does not assume that historic crops are automatically viable options for today's farm operations. However, patterns of production and allocations of crop and product mix may provide insight into potential reconfiguration of production on today's farms as diversification and value-added processing are increasingly considered.

The project stated a primary purpose to uncover, assemble and disseminate historic information that offered a ‘picture' of an earlier period of east central Indiana agriculture characterized by greater diversity in farm production and marketing mechanisms than exists today. The historic depiction of diverse cropping, farm management and market dynamics provides contemporary east central Indiana family farms and other interested farming operations a baseline array of alternative crops that have been, in a sense, proven as once viable and profitable for that agricultural region.
Report Contents:
Problem Statement

Project Purpose
     Indiana and east central Indiana:
          Agricultural Historical Context
     Agricultural Roots
     Settlement Patterns
     Diverse Agricultural Products
     Farm Organizations
     Land Use
     Historic Trends

Summary and Conclusions

The project concluded that historic information offers guidance for and understanding of the mechanisms necessary for successful and profitable contemporary diverse agricultural ventures and value-added opportunities. Some principles included:

1.  A fundamental appreciation that agricultural market opportunities often appear suddenly, then change and/or disappear rapidly and that diverse cropping and production allowed farms to be economically resilient.

2.  Cropping decisions were based on support resource ‘niches' that fit specific crops with specific soil and environmental conditions on the farm site.

3.  The community social and economic structure of the study period recognized strong interconnection between family farms, the local leadership and market development initiatives.

At the height of farm diversity in the early 1900's, over forty different crops and products were reported in significant quantities within the east central Indiana study area.

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