INDIANAPOLIS — When one thinks about world problems, over population is a common topic.

But for rural communities in Indiana, the opposite is becoming an issue. Population loss is expected to bring more challenges to small towns.

“There was a study done by IU Public Policy Institute,” said Katrina Hall, director of public policy at Indiana Farm Bureau.

“Their projections through 2050 show that 59 of the 92 counties, all of them rural, are losing population significantly. When people aren’t in your location, you don’t have workers. You don’t have a tax base. The few that are left, primarily our farmer members, are left alone.”

Hall answered questions at the Farm Bureau Agriculture Policy Outlook.

What are some of the hard facts facing rural Indiana?

The No. 1 thing, I think, is a challenge is in terms of population loss (from rural counties). We’re not the only sector concerned with that — there’s housing, retail, etc. Two thirds of our land mass would have fewer people to generate income and fill jobs.

What are some of the consequences of population loss?

Rural Indiana also has infrastructure challenges, as well as socioeconomic problems, that can be found anywhere else. With a lower population, the percentage of people in need of services is a lot higher. But there are fewer resources to address that.

There’s also educational achievement. How do you provide the same quality of educational programming where you have fewer students and resources? We have a constitutional responsibility to provide some sort of equitable education system.

What’s the importance of revitalizing rural Indiana?

We’ve chosen ‘revitalize rural Indiana’ as the topic for our policy conference this year, primarily because we’ve made a lot of progress on other legislative issues, but our membership and other leaders are really focusing on this now.

We want to make sure that Farm Bureau members have the tools to determine their own destiny. We want to give them focus areas, such as education, broadband implementation and economic development strategies that are unique to rural Indiana.

Which issues do you think are most important?

The thing we’ve been working on, one of our legislative priorities the last few years, is the need for broadband to the last mile. We’ve generated some momentum behind that issue.

It’s the one element that’s required for strong economic development growth and for providing good educational services.

How confident are you that legislature will fund broadband grants?

Next year is a budget year. Based on some revenue forecasts, that will certainly be challenging.

As far as broadband, I think there’s enough momentum that they will have to look for some dollars towards it. What will the magnitude be? It’s hard to tell.

Erica Quinlan can be reached at 800-426-9438, ext. 193, or equinlan@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Quinlan.

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