Over the past few weeks you’ve likely seen an uptick in the number of slow-moving vehicles on local roadways – a sign that the harvest season is in full swing. Here in southwest Indiana, the harvest is off to a great start. Despite heavy rainfall this summer, the harvest season has been fairly dry, which is great news for area farmers.
Hoosiers across the state depend on the agriculture industry, and for some it is a way of life. According to the Indiana Department of Agriculture, 245,000 jobs are supported by this industry and, locally, a large portion of our land is dedicated to farming. Spencer County has the largest acreage of farmland as a percentage of land area at 67 percent. Pike and Warrick counties come in at about 40 percent.
Agriculture has been a significant component of the Hoosier economy since our state’s inception, and it is consistently a topic of discussion in the state Legislature. Every year since 2011, I voted to freeze Indiana’s soil productivity factors, which are responsible for either raising or lowering an acre’s value depending on the quality of the soil. By once again voting to freeze these factors, we were able to prevent an estimated $250-million tax increase on Hoosier farmers over the next three years.
In addition to helping keep taxes low, I also supported legislation to raise the cap on the Grain Indemnity Fund to $25 million. This fund was established in 1996 to provide payments to farmers that are economically damaged by the financial failure of a grain buyer. The fund’s balance comes from a premium on the gross sale price received by producers, but those farmers who do not wish to participate may request a refund of their premium.
At the beginning of the year, the fund’s balance was about $14 million. While this may have sufficed in the 1990s, the agriculture industry has changed dramatically. At this level, a single disaster could conceivably deplete the fund’s entire balance. By raising the fund’s cap by $9 million, we helped guarantee that farmers, who voluntarily pay the premium, are adequately insured.
As we look forward to the 2016 legislative session, I will continue to keep the well-being of Hoosier farmers in mind. One concern, which has been brought to my attention by local farmers, deals with demand charges for commercial electricity customers. Utility companies must build infrastructure to meet the maximum anticipated electricity demand. Thus, utility bills for commercial customers often include both an energy charge and a demand charge. But once the initial costs of installation have been paid off, where is the excess money going?
I am currently working with my House colleagues as well as industry leaders to increase utility billing transparency. Ultimately, I think it is time to find a sensible solution that takes into account the needs of all involved parties.
I have set up town hall meetings across the district in order to meet with constituents and hear concerns just like these. I encourage you to attend one of my upcoming meetings in Winslow, Chandler or Lynnville. After all, your thoughts or ideas might lead to the next great piece of public policy. For additional details on these town halls, please visit in.gov/h75.
Rep. Bacon (R-Chandler) represents portions of Warrick, Pike and Spencer counties.