State officials took a full day to tour various farm-related businesses and celebrate Agriculture Appreciation Month. The event also served as a listening session to hear how Indiana can create more jobs. Pictured in the greenhouse facilities at Beck’s Hybrids in Hamilton County are (from left) Beck’s Hybrids Director of Research Kevin Cavanaugh, Gov. Mike Pence, Beck’s Hybrids Vice President Scott Beck and Beck’s Hybrids President Sonny Beck.
State officials took a full day to tour various farm-related businesses and celebrate Agriculture Appreciation Month. The event also served as a listening session to hear how Indiana can create more jobs. Pictured in the greenhouse facilities at Beck’s Hybrids in Hamilton County are (from left) Beck’s Hybrids Director of Research Kevin Cavanaugh, Gov. Mike Pence, Beck’s Hybrids Vice President Scott Beck and Beck’s Hybrids President Sonny Beck.
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 Agriculture director.

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 percent.

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 said.

“We want to see jobs grow,” she added. “We’ll see that in Indiana agriculture.”

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 1901.

“This is an incredible Indiana success story,” the governor said.

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 identity.”

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 land.”

Bob Bischoff, past president of the Indiana Seed Trade Association, said he is very encouraged by the Pence administration’s focus on agriculture.

On the federal level, though, Bischoff said he is concerned about the impact of regulatory burdens imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

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 Herbert Ringel.

“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 Council president.

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.”