He says there is still work to do, but he's proud of accomplishments by his administration so far. By Tom J. Bechman
When Mitch Daniels and Becky Skillman first campaigned for office eight years ago, they said agriculture was important, and would be important to rebuilding the economy of Indiana. Now seven and –a-half years later, it would be hard to argue that they didn't walk the talk. They've been instrumental in reviving respect for agriculture, and expanding the viability of agricultural businesses in the state.
Appearing before the Ethanol Forum sponsored by the Indiana Corn Marketing Council last week, Daniels balked when asked what was the most important accomplishment of his administration, and the biggest disappointments. "We're not done yet," the Governor says. "We have some 257 days to go, and we're still going to accomplish what we can in the time that we have remaining."
Daniels did state that he felt his faith and investment in agriculture from the start of his administration had paid off. "We made a full-out, unapologetic commitment to agriculture, and that's still how we look at it," he says. He added that agriculture is good business for the state.
In fact about 15% of the economy of Indiana is tied to agriculture, he says. Along with manufacturing, agriculture is one of Indiana's strong points in the economy.
He also touted creation of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, and it's current director, Joe Kelsay, for its accomplishments. He and Lt. Governor Skillman pushed for creation of the department early in their term, and it was launched in 2005. The Governor noted that since regulatory powers remained with other agencies already in charge of those duties, ISDA is free to help farmers and promote agriculture. In many states their department of agriculture is tied down by the necessity to carry out various regulatory programs that relate to agriculture.
"We also asked the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to adjust their attitude toward agriculture, and that has helped," Daniels says. He noted that at the same time, working through IDEM, they have still protected the environmental aspects of this state. The whole idea, he notes, was for IDEM leadership to no longer view farmers as the bad guys, but to work with them to help them understand and comply with the rules. After all, he notes, farmers are the original environmentalists.