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 this purpose.

“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 weather stations.

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 producers.

“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 agrarian city.

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.