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Kettler: Bring on New Business

by Hannah Tucker

Published: Friday, February 9, 2018

The Indiana State Department of Agriculture's newly appointed director, Bruce Kettler, outlined his agenda for the upcoming year at AgrIInstitute's Thought Leaders Luncheon last week in Lafayette.

AgrIInstitute is a leadership program for individuals involved in Indiana agriculture. Each cohort includes seminars and travel opportunities that develop participants' leadership skills. Kettler graduated from the program in 2012 and was the keynote speaker for the luncheon.

Economic development is at the top of Kettler's priority list as ISDA director. Bringing in new business and developing existing business is key for Indiana's success, he said.

"Please understand—of course, we want to attract new business into the state where we can," Kettler said. "But that is no more important to us than helping understand businesses that are here, knowing if they want to grow, where they can grow, and helping them to expand."

Kettler noted that Indiana can and should capitalize on issues that neighboring states like Illinois are experiencing.

"We've got some neighbors that don't get it or can't get their act together—I don't know what it is," he said. "We're going to take advantage of that and need to take advantage of that while we can."

Along with building relationships with local and state economic development agencies, another way the ISDA seeks to improve Indiana agriculture is through agricultural asset maps. Agriculture sometimes gets overshadowed by other industries like manufacturing, Kettler said. These new maps will highlight what agricultural assets different regions of the state have to offer and will likely reveal how much of an impact lesser-known agricultural industries, like hardwood production, have on the Indiana's economic viability.

"A lot of people don't understand the impact of hardwoods in this state," Kettler said. "We are the No. 1 wood office furniture producer in the country. When we think about the rankings nationally of agriculture products and industries, nobody probably thinks about hardwoods, but it's a significant impact in this state."

The ISDA is working with the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and multiple other partners to secure data and develop these asset maps. Along with economic development, Kettler and the ISDA are also focused on water quality and soil health issues in Indiana. Kettler said that going into his new position, he felt comfortable with water and soil issues due to his background at Beck's Hybrids.

"Frankly, I thought I was reasonably well versed on some of these efforts," Kettler said. "But, boy, have I got an education in three weeks about how deep we're involved as a state—not just this department, but more importantly, what's really exciting to me are the partnerships that have been formed in this state."

In 2017, conservation efforts from multiple parties prevented 377 million pounds of sediment from entering the waters here in Indiana. Additionally, 743,000 trees were planted across the state.

Kettler also touched on agriculture policy issues from both federal and state standpoints. He was in Washington, D.C. last week working with Sen. Young, Sen. Donnelly, and Rep. Walorski. He also met with House and Senate agriculture committees to relay the ISDA's concerns and priorities.

On the state level, Kettler said the ISDA is working on issues like the food safety modernization act, produce regulations, livestock issues like CAFOs and CFOs and industrial hemp. Kettler also noted the success of the Indiana Grown initiative, which is quickly approaching 1,000 members.

The ISDA is also working on two new trade missions, Kettler said. One mission, expected to be implemented this fall, will likely involve Canada in 2019, then Mexico. Overall, Kettler has a positive outlook on the future of Indiana agriculture.

"We've got relationships with the economic development corporation of Indiana, local economic development groups, and others," he said. "We know that there are other efforts we can make—many other industries or companies that we need to get connected with to make sure that we're able to do economic development within the state in a positive way."

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