WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Donald J. Biehle, who has managed the
Southeast-Purdue Agricultural Center since it was created in 1977, is the 2013
recipient of the Frederick L. Hovde Award of Excellence in Education Service to
the Rural People of Indiana.
Biehle, superintendent of the center in Butlerville,
received the award at the Indiana Farm Bureau convention in Fort Wayne. The
award honors Purdue University staff with a record of outstanding achievement
and service to rural communities.
“Don has built SEPAC into a model integrated research and
outreach farm over the past 35 years,” said Jay Akridge, Glenn W. Sample Dean of
Purdue Agriculture. “His leadership in implementing new crop production
strategies and soil and water conversation projects and expanding programming to
new audiences has created an exceptional center for cutting-edge farm research
and education serving southeastern Indiana.”
The award is sponsored by Indiana Farm Bureau and carries
with it a monetary prize. It is named for Purdue’s longest-serving president,
who led the university from 1946 to 1971.
Biehle was born and raised in Jennings County, where the
center is located. He was completing a bachelor’s degree in agricultural
economics at Purdue in 1977, when he learned that the university was seeking a
manager to develop a new regional research farm.
The state of Indiana had transferred excess land from the
Department of Mental Health’s Muscatatuck State Development Center to Purdue for
“With limited funding from the state and a few well-used
tractors, Don returned to his home county to develop over 800 acres of surplus
state land into an active research farm,” said Jerry Fankhauser Jr., director of
Purdue Agricultural Centers.
Biehle spent the early years getting the fallow ground
readied for field research by the agricultural faculty and for local Purdue
Extension programs. As the center developed, Biehle diversified operations,
trying new production techniques for corn, soybeans and horticulture crops and
timber management for woodlot owners.
He also established soil drainage, tillage research,
precision technology, wetlands for wildlife and fire protection and automated
In 2005, the state transferred an additional 1,600 acres to
Purdue, making the center the largest of the eight regional centers, with more
than 2,400 acres.
Bob Nielsen, Purdue Extension corn specialist, is among the
researchers who say Biehle helps keep them in touch with the needs of local
“Don’s collaborative nature and can-do attitude greatly
enhances our ability to conduct applied field research,” Nielsen said. “His
insight and knowledge of local agricultural concerns helps focus the research at
SEPAC and ensures the results are applicable to our farming clientele in that
part of Indiana.”
Biehle has also expanded the scope of programming beyond
traditional field days and other Extension programs to increase the number of
people who attend events at the center.
Through his work as a volunteer firefighter and with the
Jennings County Local Emergency Planning Committee, the center has hosted farm
safety and emergency responder training events.
Another innovative partnership is with the Indiana National
Guard’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center adjacent to the center.
The center, which includes infrastructure of the former
Muscatatuck State Development Center, allows soldiers, peacekeepers, emergency
responders and diplomats to train in an area that replicates a Third World
Commanding Officer R. Dale Lyles calls Biehle a “good
neighbor” who helps the center provide education and training that have global
implications for soldiers and civilians.
The collaboration includes a land-feed exchange program that
provides grain for Muscatatuck animals, educational support for agriculture
development teams preparing for deployment to Afghanistan and use of center
sites for training exercises.