What will Indiana agriculture be like in 2014? Your guess is as good as ours. But we decided to put ours in print so you can see if you agree. Here are possible trends in areas from business to government and beyond.
New state ag director will start fast
Ted McKinney is off and running. The former Dow AgroSciences and Elanco executive is hitting the ground running, planning to bring plenty of energy to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Right now he's assessing the strengths of his staff, and so far we've heard he's pleasantly surprised. He believes it's just a matter of getting everyone going in the same direction.
There are a couple of stumbling blocks he may have to deal with relatively soon. The Department of Education continues to cut funding for the Indiana FFA, even though Indiana FFA is part of ISDA. This isn't a budget year in the legislature, but over the next 12 months, expect talk about how to strengthen and better fund FFA, the Indiana FFA Center and agricultural education in the state.
There are also questions about how solid funding is for the Division of Soil Conservation. Funded in part by the ever-shrinking tobacco tax, sooner or later it may need a new, dedicated source of funding.
Expect McKinney to be up to the challenge. He's full of energy, ideas and charisma.
BioCrossroads food initiative will get off the ground
About a month ago, BioCrossroads launched an initiative to create a corridor for food and nutrition-linked businesses in Indiana. It's an idea that has been kicked around for over a decade, and now is the time to make it happen. Beth Bechtold of Ice Miller is one of the leads on the initiative. If a group can tie together the resources Indiana has, it should be able to attract other businesses in the food and nutrition field to locate here. The goal is something like Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, where nearly all the major ag chemical companies except for Dow AgroSciences are represented. Dow AgroSciences, of course, is headquartered in Indiana.
Property tax issues
This one never goes away. Farmers are calling us, wanting to know how to tell legislators that their property taxes on bare farmland are too high. The best way is by contacting them, again and again. Get your neighbors to do contact them, too. The confusing part is that two issues are at stake – the proposed soil productivity rating changes from the Department of Local Government Finance that could raise property tax values on some soils; and the formula that determines the new base value every year.
Katrina Hall of the Indiana Farm Bureau, Inc., is squarely in this fight. Farm Bureau has stopped DLGF from implementing soil productivity changes two years in a row, and will try again if the final proposal isn't reasonable, she says. However, she still doesn't see much action on the formula that sets base farmland values. The problem is they are rising each year while many homeowners enjoy much lower taxes compared to five years ago.
Property tax on business goods goes 'poof'?
Gov. Pence says he would like to make property taxes on equipment used in business, including farm machinery, go away. Many other states don't have it, and it puts Indiana at a disadvantage for attracting business. He has already told the legislature it's a priority, but hasn't told them how to make it happen. Whether he really hopes for action this year or is posturing for a strong proposal to do away with it and replace the funding somehow during the 2015 budget session remains to be seen.
Legislation to prevent people from filming what goes on around farms may or may not be back this year. Several environmental groups made noise on the issue last fall, almost as if to say, "don't try to do this again." A move to stop filming and limit who could work for farmers failed last session.
Indiana Farm Bureau would rather see this turn into a positive update of the trespassing law, which would give farmers more teeth in keeping trespassers off their property. It's highly unlikely if that's high on the environmentalists' agenda. This one could go a number of ways. Our guess is it will materialize into some sort of issue before the year is over.
If you think agriculture has gone techno-crazy, you haven't seen anything yet! The craze now is drones, although proponents don't want them called by that name because of negative connotations. They are small unmanned hovercraft that carry cameras and can get pictures and collect data from fields automatically. Several groups that seem to have financial backing are staking a claim in this field.
Whether it will be a flash in the pan remains to be seen. What this type of scouting could bring to crop management may make it the real thing if developers don't want high fees, and have someone in their firm who can talk "crop-eze" with farmers. This technology is one to watch.