By Michele F. Mihaljevich
INDIANAPOLIS – The chairman of Hoosier Ag Today and the dean of Purdue University’s College of Agriculture have received the 2022 AgriVision Award, Indiana’s highest agricultural honor.
Gary Truitt started the Hoosier Ag Today farm network in 2006. Karen Plaut became the college’s first female dean when she was named to the role in May 2018. Truitt and Plaut received their awards Aug. 4 during a ceremony at the Indiana State Fair.
The AgriVision Award recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the agriculture industry, according to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA). The award has been given annually since 2007.
For a decade or more, Truitt covered the award ceremony for Hoosier Ag Today. “It was a little surreal to not be in the audience waiting to interview the recipients,” he said. “Historically, I’ve gone up to interview the recipients (after the ceremony). But all of a sudden, they’re taking pictures of me. The previous recipients are lots of really cool people I’ve admired. People who have been mentors or who I have a tremendous amount of respect for. To find yourself selected to be in that group is truly humbling.”
Plaut said she and ISDA Director Bruce Kettler exchanged phone messages a couple of times before they were able to connect and he could tell her she was going to receive the award. “We played telephone tag. When he told me, I admit I was shocked, surprised and very honored. I really love doing what I do both for the state and for Purdue. Looking at the previous recipients, they’re really stalwarts in agriculture. I’m honored to be a part of that group.”
Truitt said the award celebrates a vision people have for agriculture, for Indiana agriculture or for their business or industry.
“I thought it was important to have a vision,” he explained. “Not only vision with your eyes, but also heart vision. Not only where you are but where you’re going. Farmers understand that. They’re always thinking about heart vision, the future for their farm. (The award) celebrates people who have that vision.”
Truitt grew up in Chicago. His goal was not to be a farm broadcaster but to play rock and roll music on the radio. He did that for a couple of years at a small town radio station, where he was told he had to develop programming that met the needs of his listeners. Those listeners included a lot of corn and soybean farmers. He made contact with some farm networks and later moved to Missouri to work for Brownfield radio network. He came to Indiana in 1985 to start the Indiana Agribusiness Radio Network, later called the AgriAmerica Network.
“I fell into farm broadcasting, and then fell in love with it,” Truitt explained. “It’s a fantastic industry to be in. I’ve had fantastic experiences along the way. It’s something you do that you have a passion for. Farmers are depending on me. It’s a responsibility I took very seriously. People were making business decisions based on what you said.”
In 2006, after the network had been sold, he founded Hoosier Ag Today, which now has more than 70 affiliates statewide. In 2018, Truitt and Farm World purchased the Indiana/Illinois Farm and Outdoor Power Equipment Show, which was rebranded as the Indiana Farm Equipment and Technology Expo.
Truitt bought the Michigan Agriculture Information Network in 2019 and renamed it Michigan Ag Today. He was inducted into the National Association of Farm Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2020.
Truitt’s wife Kathleen has been his business partner for the last 17 years. She also kept the home fires burning during all his travels, he noted.
He said he knew he had made it and was successful in reaching his audience after a comment from Don Villwock, former Indiana Farm Bureau president. “He said, ‘Truitt, you think like a farmer.’ I’m not a farmer. I’ve never been a farmer. It was one of the highest compliments I ever had.”
Before Plaut was named the Glenn W. Sample dean of Purdue’s ag college, she served as senior associate dean for research and faculty affairs in the college. She joined Purdue in 2010.
She said she’s especially proud of the work done on the Purdue Moves Plant Sciences Initiative. Under the initiative, the Center for Plant Biology was established, 10 faculty members were hired, and the Ag-Celerator – a $2 million plant sciences innovation fund within the Purdue Foundry – was created. Plaut took the lead in 2013 in writing the proposal that led to more than $20 million in funding for the initiative.
In 2021, for Purdue Next Moves Plant Sciences 2.0, she secured more than $20 million in additional funding. This money will expand and leverage Purdue agriculture’s expertise in digital agriculture, phenotyping and agricultural economics.
“After 1.0 (the first round of funding), I thought, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Plaut recalled. “After 2.0, I thought it was a twice in a lifetime opportunity. Cutting edge technology has started to revolutionize the industry. Digital tools, imaging tools, can be used to find a disease in the field and spray it. You’re not spraying the whole field anymore.”
She considers her work with students to be another highlight. “You can never ignore the impact you may have on the next generation. That’s your long-term legacy, impacting that next generation.”
As dean, she is responsible for Purdue extension, the Indiana Agricultural Experiment Station and several state regulatory services, along with administering academic programs in the college.
Plaut said she doesn’t know why she was chosen for the award, but hopes it was “because I’ve made an impact beyond Purdue. I care very much about the land grant mission. I’m hoping they saw I was making a difference in the state.”