Becky Skillman, the lt. governor and secretary of agriculture in Indiana, took time out recently for an exclusive discussion with Indiana Prairie Farmer. The occasion was to review her impressions of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture after five years. Skillman and Governor Mitch Daniels were instrumental in pushing legislation through the Indiana General Assembly that led to the creation of ISDA in 2005. The agency began operating in May of that year.
It's an agency which employees 54 people, with roughly half or more of those working in the Division of Soil Conservation, housed under ISDA, says Joe Kelsay, Whiteland, current director of ISDA. Twenty-two positions are housed in Indianapolis, while the rest of the positions are spread out across the state.
"One of its' biggest accomplishments is being an advocate for agriculture," Skillman says. "Before, there was no one to go to bat for agriculture at the same level as in several other departments at the state level," she explains.
"If an issue impacted agriculture, often there wasn't anyone around the table when the director of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources or the director of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management discussed it. There was no one in state government on the same plane as those directors who could represent agriculture's side of the story."
Now there is, and Skillman thinks it has made a big difference. If an issue involves agriculture, the industry at least has a voice at the table.
She's also proud of what ISDA has accomplished in terms of economic development. Bioenergy plants, primarily ethanol plants, were a push for ISDA in the first couple of years. The agency typically acted in an assistance role.
Biotown at Reynolds was intended to be a model other communities could follow in converting to bio-energy, she says. ISDA was heavily involved in the project in the beginning. The idea was for other communities to emulate what happened there. As far as some of the earliest steps, like installing a station with E-85 fuel, that has worked, she notes. There are now 134 communities with E-85 access. When she first drove the Tahoe Chevrolet provided her to drive in 23005, there were none.
Some of the more involved aspects of Biotown have taken longer than expected, she notes. The project still exists, but is now under local control, not ISDA control. "It's still probably the community with the highest number of flex-fuel cars per capita in the country," she says.
Look for more from this discussion tomorrow and in the December issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer.