INDIANAPOLIS - The Indiana State Department of Agriculture says the latest Census of Agriculture shows the sector remains the backbone of the state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the census, which is taken every five years. It shows Indiana's agricultural production in 2017 totaled more than $11 billion, which the ISDA says puts the state in the top 10 nationwide for total agricultural products sold.

In an interview with Inside INdiana Business, ISDA Director Bruce Kettler says the results highlight the efficiency of the state's agriculture industry.

"Certainly, we're not the largest state, of course, in terms of land size and land mass in the United States, so it does show good efficiency," said Kettler. "In the past two decades, we have actually more than doubled the agricultural output in dollars in the state of Indiana. Looking at that, I think that says we've been able to diversify our agricultural output probably both in crops but our gut feeling is especially in some of our livestock sectors. We've continued to grow those and I think that helps both."

Kettler says the other part of that is the businesses that supply Indiana farmers are able to continue to have jobs and supply those businesses. He says it's a good way to keep Indiana's ag sector strong.

The census says Indiana had 56,649 farms in 2017, down more than 2,000 over the five-year period. However, the average size of the farms was 264 acres, which is 5 percent higher than 2012. Total farmland in Indiana also rose to 15 million acres, or 65 percent of the state's total land.

The number of female farmers jumped 30 percent over the previous census, along with the number of minority-operated farms in all categories. Indiana also ranks third in the nation in the number of acres planted.

"We are seeing a trend of diversity in agriculture, and I couldn’t be more proud to see the significant jump of women and minorities involved in this industry," Lieutenant Governor Suzanne Crouch, Indiana’s secretary of agriculture and rural development, said in a news release. "Agriculture has always been Indiana’s calling card and the backbone of our economy. As we plan for the future, I look forward to working alongside our farmers, as they continue to feed and fuel our world."

Kettler says they will use the data to look at which parts of the ag sector can grow in Indiana.

"What I think it will help us to understand is where can we either expand existing businesses that are here that are processing the crops or livestock into products, or where can we work to attract new businesses that maybe want to come from other states or even outside of the United States to come here and invest in Indiana and, again, ways to add value to our products and crops that are grown here but then making sure that those jobs and the added value of those products as a result of those jobs stays in Indiana."

Kettler says the ISDA, along with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and the Purdue Center for Regional Development, among others, will put the new agriculture census data into a study known as the Rural Economic Development Model. He says the model will allow the state to look at where its agricultural assets are located and help determine how best to grow the sector in Indiana.

You can connect to the 2017 Census of Agriculture by clicking here.