There was a special feeling in the air when Joe Kelsay, Indiana's new director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, took the podium at the Johnson County Soil and Water Conservation District meeting in Franklin last week. Kelsay, a dairy farmer tapped to lead ISDA beginning last November, is a native of Johnson County. The family dairy operation he's still a part of is located there.
Kelsay used the opportunity to reaffirm ISDA's commitment to its strategic plan. The plan, the first revision since ISDA's first strategic plan developed when the department was first created five years ago, was actually developed under the guidance of former ISDA director Ann Hazlett. Ironically, it was officially announced on the Kelsay Diary Farm near Whiteland in late June of '09.
Later, Hazlett would receive and accept an offer to return to Washington, D.C. to serve in a key policy-making, behind-the-scenes role. That's when Lt. Governor Skillman tapped Kelsay to fill the spot. He is officially the advisor to Governor Mitch Daniels on agricultural issues.
"I wasn't seeking this role," Kelsay says. "But I had a healthy respect for Governor Daniels concerning how he's elevated the role of agriculture since he took office. That's the way ti should be. Agriculture is the fourth largest industry in Indiana, and employs 16% of all Hoosiers.
"I have loved agriculture since I was a kid. This industry has been so good to us as a family. I saw serving as director as a great opportunity to give back to the state."
The strategic plan contains three key elements, and ISDA is pursuing them vigorously, Kelsay told the audience. The first is advocacy, being an advocate for agriculture.
"The new Farmers Feed Us campaigns is helping us do that," he notes. "It's a national program, and we've adopted it here in Indiana. Visitors to a Website can meet 8 Hoosier farmers, and register to win free groceries. We've had 13,000 register so far, and it only started a few days ago. We're very hopeful this new effort will make a difference."
The second leg of the stool is economic opportunity, the director notes. Even in this time of slowdown and recession, there are still opportunities to make a profit in agriculture in Indiana, he notes.
The third leg completing the stool is environmental stewardship, Kelsay says. "What makes Indiana great are our soils, climate, transportation system and our people with great management skills," he says. "That's why agriculture is a driver for the economy in this state, yet most farmers do it the right way in regards to the environment. Sharing this story is at the top of our priority list."