Farming – Still a Family Affair

Fifth Generation Center Grove Farm has Regional Influence

by Ann Craig-Cinnamon

“I mentioned my hope of family control. In our case, we believe we have the typical farm family characteristics of honesty, integrity, church, family and care for the land and community. We do not want America to lose that. However, in South America and Australia, there are several farm operations that farm well over 1 million acres that are corporate-owned.”

Humorist Will Rogers once said, “The farmer has to be an optimist, or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.” Rogers said that decades ago, but the words are as true as ever today. Saying that farming is a difficult business is putting it mildly.

Despite technological advancement, farming is still sweat-inducing, get-your-hands-dirty, hard work that is at the mercy of conditions beyond anyone’s control like the tyrannies of weather and the state of economies. Equipment that is essential for farming today is expensive, and farmland is rapidly disappearing as developers snap it up to build more housing subdivisions and strip malls. Commodity prices are so volatile that revenues can fluctuate wildly from year to year and even day to day. So why in the world would anyone want to get into such an unpredictable business? Perhaps because it’s in their DNA?

Meet the Richards
The Richards family runs Indy Family Farms, a fifth generation farm in Center Grove. It all started in 1897 when the first generation of the Richards family moved to Central Indiana from Tennessee and bought some land in Glenns Valley to farm. The second generation bought land south of Smith Valley Road on State Road 37. The third generation bought more land on State Road 37 where Indy Family Farms is still located today, operated by the fourth and fifth generations of Richards. Rob Richards and his sons, Eric and Aaron, operate the farm today, and it’s a business that the first generation would never recognize.

It has grown to include farming land in 13 counties around Central Indiana, employing 12 full-time and 12 part-time and seasonal workers, and owning as many as 40 pieces of massive farm tractors and other equipment, some costing upwards of $400,000. Yes, they have come a long way from horse drawn plows.


Rob gives all the credit for the growth and success of the business over the past 16 years to his sons who have worked on the family farm since they were teenagers. Rob himself had left farming for different pastures after graduating from Purdue and returned five years ago when his sons had grown Indy Family Farms to the point that they needed him to help run the business end of it. It may be a large business now, but Eric says it is still all about family. “We’re a family farm operation with strong business acumen and a goal of keeping our family on the farm and exceeding landowner expectations along the way,” he says.

The realities of farming
To that end, Eric says they have to keep growing because if you’re standing still in the agriculture industry, you’re falling behind, and the average farm is getting bigger and bigger. He quotes the latest USDA statistics that 2.5 percent of farmers generate 62.9 percent of agricultural revenue.


The Richards lease most of the land they farm which is typical. Eric says owning land is difficult and unnecessary. “The average farmer in Indiana leases 40 to 60 percent of the land he farms, and this number is steadily increasing. As a result, leasing land is very, very common. Land prices have increased dramatically over the last few years. Purchasing land is more of a permanent asset and decreases the working capital available to us for growth. We think the land prices will level off a bit, but investor purchases will keep the demand side high,” he says.

Eric also points out that we live in a fast growing, developing area, and the “urban sprawl” of Indianapolis has taken tillable acres for years and continues to do so. However, in looking for available land to farm, they are respectful of the many great family farms that are in the local area and only focus on ground in transition or landowners that contact them directly looking for a tenant change.

For the love of farming
The Richards are also great caretakers of the land they farm. Aaron says that every year for the past four years, they have hired a consultant to come in and review the ground and their processes, documentation and safety actions. “This involves extensive documentation to support our safe and effective receipt, storage, application and disposal of fuels, fertilizers, chemicals and seeds.”

Modern Farming

“Some folks may think we are crazy to pay for something like this that we do not have to do, but we think it is the right thing to do on behalf of our environment, employees, community and landowners. For our business, it definitely makes us better and prepares us for any traceability requirements that will be coming to row crop agriculture in the near future,” he says.

Changes to the industry
Rob says that there have been phenomenal changes to agriculture brought on by technology in the last 10 years, and these are contributing to the improved yields needed to feed the world. “Technology advances are going to continue to expand. There’s going to be more information available to farmers to be able to improve the yield production of the ground and hopefully simplify some of the farming operations,” he says. “Data comes together so that you can increase yields….That is what it’s all about. At the highest level, it’s increasing yields, or it’s getting the information to allow working faster and more efficiently for a cost reduction. Yield increase and efficiency translates into net profit improvement.”

Rob says they already have technology that allows him to sit at home and see what is happening in the fields from his iPhone after he has gone home for the day. He mentions auto steer, auto shutoff, tablets in the tractors that access the web, variable rate application that fertilizes only the areas that need it and planting machines that can sense when a row is planted and shuts off, thus saving seeds. The future, he says, is unmanned tractors with IT people sitting at a bank of monitors turning machines off and on remotely.

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Feeding the world
How they farm has transformed, but what they farm has remained the same. They still grow corn, soybeans and wheat, but the difference is how those crops are used. Aaron says they sell to elevators who sell to processors who turn it into ethanol, flour and cereal. In addition, the elevators export some of their crops, so the Richards really do help feed the world in the grand scheme of things.

Despite all the problems and volatility, Rob insists that farming is not a dying business because the world needs growers of foods. “I hesitate to say that large companies will be doing most of the farming because I hope it will be family farm operations that are leading the way. However, family farm operations will continue to increase in size as ours has. When you look at the USDA agricultural statistics, farm size has always been on a growth trend, and that will continue.”

“I mentioned my hope of family control. In our case, we believe we have the typical farm family characteristics of honesty, integrity, church, family and care for the land and community. We do not want America to lose that. However, in South America and Australia, there are several farm operations that farm well over 1 million acres that are corporate-owned,” he says.


So the next time you walk into a grocery store and have access to the widest array of foods known to mankind, keep in mind that there are hardworking people responsible for supplying what we all take for granted. Rob says that in America today, the typical non-farm person is three generations removed from agriculture. For most people, that means their great grandfather was the last person in the family who was involved with growing crops.

He summarizes it this way: “In the US, less than 1 percent of the population directly produces the food that 100 percent of us eat. Of that 1 percent, 95 percent are part-time farmers. Based on USDA statistics, then only 5 percent of the 1 percent are producing 30 percent of the food. All farmers know that we do indeed ‘feed the world.’ The challenge is that we are not feeding everyone in the world now, and the population continues to grow. Ag information says by 2050, farmers/suppliers will have to double current yields to feed the world. That is a significant challenge!” says Rob. So don’t ask why anyone would want to be a farmer. Just say thank you.


Ann Craig-Cinnamon is a 30 year Radio & TV Broadcast veteran. You may recall her as the host of popular radio morning shows in Indianapolis for many years. She and her husband, John are also business owners. Her lifelong love of world travel led them to start a travel franchise, CruiseOne, in Center Grove. Ann is a writer, travel speaker and author of the book “Walking Naked in Tehran.”

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