LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Indiana AgrIInstitute, which promotes and cultivates leadership in agriculture, hosted a Thought Leaders Luncheon last week featuring newly appointed Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) Director Bruce Kettler.
Kettler, who previously worked as director of public relations for Beck’s Hybrids, has only been in the ISDA chief for a few weeks. Before Beck’s, he worked as regional credit manager, advertising and communications manager for Dow AgroSciences.
“It’s been a wonderful, fast-paced, but great few weeks,” he said of his new position. “From a department standpoint, we are really fortunate to have such a tremendous staff. They do a lot of great things, are very committed.”
Kettler found it refreshing that he came to a team he said hadn’t wasted a moment since former director Ted McKinney left the post to become under secretary of Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs for the USDA. He said the goals and objectives he has for the department will thrive in an environment that is always moving forward. Much of his strategic plan involves economic development.
“This is one of the areas that excites me, because we can spend time and effort in being able to make sure that we are moving in a positive direction, and the positive impact that we make for the state, and for the citizens of this state, can be a real game-changer, in my opinion,” he said.
Kettler noted ISDA’s relationships with economic development bodies such as the Indiana Economic Development Corp. (IEDC) and even global economic development groups is a great asset in accomplishing Indiana’s goals. He said other efforts can be made with other industries or companies to facilitate economic development.
“We already have a lot of partners that we’re working with,” he explained. “One example is we’ve done some work where we’ve looked at Indiana’s economic development impact, and Farm Credit, for example, has provided us with some funds and resources to be able to help produce promotional materials.”
Kettler plans to work with the IEDC to help leaders understand the agriculture industry better and show them it can be a difficult and complex industry. He pointed to ISDA’s dairy strategy, which was implemented with partners in that industry to expand and attract milk processing plants to the state.
He also mentioned the potential the Indiana hardwood industry has to partner with other entities.
“A lot of people don’t understand the impact of hardwoods in the state, and it’s a huge, huge impact,” he said. “We are the No. 1 producer of office furniture in the country, and it has a lot to do with exports, and when we think about the rankings nationally of agriculture products and industries, nobody probably thinks about hardwoods.”
ISDA is currently coordinating with others to put a study together working with partners to find other markets for hardwoods, to bring in more manufacturing and value-added product. He said the “old manufacturing” or “industrial” models of marketing, in terms of economic development, do not fit the current marketplace.
“The world has changed, making our industry different, so that one-size-fits-all model is not going to work,” he explained. “If we think about our farms and our industries in the state – maybe on the agriculture side we need to start thinking about our output in terms of raw products out of the fields, and then think about what we can do to add value closer to home, beyond just exporting raw commodities.”
He said ISDA will be working to understand what ag assets the state has and where they are located. By working with other groups to put together a study to collect data, Kettler aims to find out if these assets could provide opportunities to implement ISDA’s strategic plan.
Another area of interest is soil health. In 2017, he said ISDA and its partners prevented 377 million pounds of sediment from entering the water, and 743,000 trees were planted. A nutrient alliance has also been launched, which is an effort relying on more partnership.
On policy, Kettler recognized the main issues of carbon emission, the Food Safety Modernization Act and issues regarding confined animal feeding operations. “From the federal standpoint, and the state standpoint, we’re obviously taking note of all the effort going on,” he said.
“I spent the day yesterday on the Hill (and in senators’ offices), the House and Senate ag committees, helping them understand the concerns and issues that we have, and getting nominations through to the USDA and helping them work on that.”
For economic development, some specific focuses ISDA has are to attract new business to the state and help understand those that are already here, know if they want to grow, where they can grow and help them to expand.
The Indiana Grown initiative is one the ISDA oversees that has been quite successful. The program is getting close to 1,000 members and Kettler said he will continue to push forward with that.
“Our team has held up great models built up on partnership,” he said. “It’s not saying, ‘OK, the feds are the best at it or the state is the best at it’ – it’s realizing that there are limited hours and limited resources, so how do we work together to make sure we are providing taxpayers the biggest bang for this … and so it’s just been really refreshing to see that our state is involved in that.”