The questions were clear-cut. Will the Indiana State Department of Agriculture continue the goal set four years ago of doubling pork production in Indiana? Or have environmental concerns caused state leaders to decide to veer off course? And what about other types of livestock operations?
The answers from both Secretary of Agriculture Becky Skillman and ISDA Director Anne Hazlett were straightforward. "What we've found is that by working on the goal of doubling pork production, we've done things that have helped other types of livestock enterprises to grow as well," Skillman says.
The pork production goal was somewhat controversial when a fledgling ISDA signaled out pork over other types of livestock as its growth engine for the future. At the time ISDA leadership said the idea was to pick a specific target, one that was attainable. They felt concentrating on increasing pork production was the most viable option at the time.
"We're going to focus on all facets of the livestock industry going forward," Skillman added. Both she and ISDA's Hazlett recently made comments as ISDA unveiled its revised strategic plan for the next four years. While it looks similar to the original plan of four years ago in many respects, it zeroes in on being an advocate for agriculture, promoting economic opportunities and practicing environmental stewardship. Skillman believes Indiana's livestock industry has an important role to play in providing economic opportunities for agriculture and agribusiness going forward.
Hazlett agrees that the goal is to do those things that provide a favorable climate for all types of livestock enterprises to flourish in Indiana. At the same time, she calculates that if livestock increases at 3% per year for the next 25 years, the goal of doubling pork production set out in the original plan will be met.
"We've added two key words to oru guiding document when it comes to livestock production and promoting growth of that industry," Hazlett says. "You will see us talking about any growth being 'environmentally and economically' sustainable. That's important."
The new plan laid out for ISDA includes three main parts- advocacy for agriculture, developing economic opportunities, and paying close attention to environmental stewardship. A wide cross-section of ag industry people helped provide input for the new plan, Hazlett says. During the process representatives of all livestock sectors in Indiana were at the table, not just pork producers.
New approach to soil conservation effort
The Division of Soil Conservation is part of ISDA. The change moving it form the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to ISDA was made through the same legislation that created ISDA. Now ISDA's director, Anne Hazlett, is ready to go one step further.
"My goal is to make it more of a part of what we do, rather than having it set off by itself," Hazlett says. "Conservation and environmental stewardship are extremely important today. Conservation needs to be part of our mainstream effort."
Exactly how the director will accomplish that change in direction remains to be seen. However, she implied that the Division of Soil Conservation would play a more active role in the next four years. She also believes that the division's programs will be a more integral part of ISDA's overall mission.
The Division of Soil Conservation is now headed up by Jared Chew. It employs technical employees in the field all across Indiana. They work alongside Natural Resource Conservation Service and local soil and water conservation districts as part of a team to get work done in rural Indiana every day.