ATLANTA, Ind. — State officials have an ambitious plan to
grow agriculture in Indiana.
“The governor has set the tone to take Indiana from a good
state to a great state,” said Gina Sheets, Indiana State Department of
She described ISDA’s goals during a visit to Beck’s Hybrids,
one of four stops in a daylong tour of diverse farming businesses to celebrate
Agriculture Appreciation Month. She was accompanied by Gov. Mike Pence and Lt.
Gov. Sue Ellspermann.
The administration, which took office less than three months
ago, plans to increase Indiana’s share of the national agricultural gross
domestic product by 10 percent in four years – from 2.25 percent to 2.75
The second goal is to always be above the national average
for international exports in agriculture. Last year, despite severe
drought-induced production challenges, Indiana ranked eighth, Sheets
“We want to see jobs grow,” she added. “We’ll see that in
Ellspermann said she wanted to visit Beck’s Hybrids ever
since she was tagged to be Pence’s running mate last May.
“This is Indiana agriculture,” she beamed.
Pence marveled at how much the family company has grown —
both in business and as a community partner — since it was started in
“This is an incredible Indiana success story,” the governor
He cited the efforts of former Gov. Mitch Daniels — and his
intent to build on that success.
“One of the great accomplishments of the Daniels
administration is not to just let Indiana be an ag state, but to let Indiana
shine as a pro-agriculture state,” he said.
Pence’s commitment to farmers has included serving two terms
on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture.
“I think Indiana is a lot of things, but Indiana is
agriculture,” he said, while nibbling on a large pork tenderloin. “It’s really
the core of not just what we are, but I also think whether you live in the city
or on a farm, it’s also the core of who we are.”
“When I think of the character of the people of Indiana, I
think whatever you do for a living, there is a lot in the character of our state
that you can look back to the principles of farming that Hoosiers live out,” he
added. “I want you to know that’s how central I believe agriculture is to our
The strength of the state’s agricultural economy has helped
Indiana endure the so-called Great Recession, Pence said, highlighting the 15
percent to 20 percent annual growth at Beck’s Hybrids.
“That’s a testament to great leadership, to company
integrity and innovation, but also a quick reminder of the fact that this is not
a boutique industry — this is the centerpiece, a multibillion-dollar industry
and one that we as an administration are deeply committed to continuing to
advance,” he said.
“We want Indiana to build on the strength of our
agricultural economy. We want to build on our exports. We want to do that
because it’s right for our economy, and it’s also who we are. I like to say, in
Indiana we do two things well — we grow things, and we make things.
“As we rebuild this economy to even greater heights than
it’s ever been before, we are going to rebuild it on our strengths, and
agriculture, we think, is one of the core pillars of Indiana’s economy.”
As a growing business, Beck’s Hybrids is challenged to find
high-quality talent, said company vice president Scott Beck.
In particular, he explained, employees must demonstrate
teamwork, integrity, commitment, passion, innovation and adaptability.
“We can do a lot of things in terms of teaching skills, but
to have those core values is what we really need,” he said.
Tom Hooper, Beck’s Hybrids director of sales, thanked Pence
for his efforts to improve education in Indiana. Education does not stop at high
school or college, he noted.
Beck’s Hybrids Director of Research Kevin Cavanaugh said the
growing world population presents tremendous opportunities for agriculture and
for the state.
“The old saying, ‘lower our head and step on the gas,’ I
think that’s what Indiana has the opportunity to do. Let’s get in the lead and
step on the gas,” he said. “I see a lot of opportunity over the next 10 to 15
years in agriculture. I think Indiana is positioned very well.”
But it is imperative that the ag industry communicates more
with consumers, stressed Beck’s Hybrids President Sonny Beck.
“We continue to be a smaller portion and portion and portion
of the electorate, and it doesn’t take too many people writing editorials that
have no basis that some people begin to think, ‘Well, that might be a problem.
Maybe they should stop doing that in agriculture,’” he said.
“We need to spend our time and funds, all of us, in making
sure that people understand what true agriculture is and how it really is the
basis for all the food — we are trying to be the best stewards of our
Bob Bischoff, past president of the Indiana Seed Trade
Association, said he is very encouraged by the Pence administration’s focus on
On the federal level, though, Bischoff said he is concerned
about the impact of regulatory burdens imposed by the Environmental Protection
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management also
should not be an adversary, added First Farmers Bank and Trust’s Ken Perkins, a
member of the ISDA advisory group.
“They need to be a proponent of the environment, but that
doesn’t mean it has to be at the expense of farmers,” he stressed. “It ought to
be a cooperative venture rather than adversarial.”
IDEM regulations should not overburden Hoosier livestock
operations, in particular, said Indiana Corn Growers Association President
“They’re the biggest user of corn here in the state of
Indiana,” he noted.
“Livestock is such a big part of our corn business. We need
to be able to grow that market,” concurred Dennis Maple, Indiana Corn Marketing
Investing in infrastructure is a key to keeping the state
competitive, said Indiana Soybean Alliance President Kevin Wilson.
“Without good infrastructure, it’s going to be awfully hard
to keep us moving ahead,” he warned. “We’ve got a lot of processing, a lot of
good things going on here in the state. We’ve got beans coming in, and meal and
oil going out, as well as beans going down to the river in the south. We have to
maintain good road structure and bridges.”