Daniels offers new strategy for Hoosier agriculture Can green collar jobs help Indiana’s economy reinvent itself for a new century? The Daniels Administration is due to have answers at the Indiana State Fair. Indiana’s newly created Department of Agriculture, which grants cabinet-level representation to agriculture for the first time in the state’s history, has promised detailed action plans from many of the seven advisory committees representing each of the highlighted areas in “Possibilities Unbound,” Indiana’s new Strategic Plan for Agriculture. These specified interest areas are hardwoods, pork production, bioenergy, food processing, diversification of production, representing Indiana’s agricultural interests on a national and international level and regulatory coordination.

In a seemingly bold move, the administration has embraced pork, an industry in which large, industrial models have sparked protests from neighbors and environmental activists. Rather than discouraging current production models, Daniels is encouraging pork production in Indiana to double within the next decade or so.

By pledging to double pork production through pursuing technological advancements in animal welfare and environmental stewardship, the administration nurses the ambitions of an industry that lost 20,700 producers between 1980 and 2003, leaving the state with 3,300 total hog farms.

Whether local pork growth would be cannibalized from existing industry beyond Indiana or added to the nation’s existing hog crop will determine the impact that doubling the Hoosier hog population will have on the supply-demand factor. Tight supply and strong demand is currently working in favor of the pork industry.

Another important question is, can Indiana deal with two times the manure?

According to the administration’s strategic plan authors, one to three livestock farms are to be selected as “test markets” for new technologies designed “to virtually eliminate odor and waste issues.”

These test sites may sprout into bioenergy hubs wherein the power needs of a whole community could be powered with electricity yielded via technology such as methane digestion.

Methane digesters convert gas emitted from manure to electricity, rendering a dry manure by-product in which the organic content has been stabilized, thereby reducing its once odiferous nature. Though local providers of electricity have yet to fully embrace digestion technology as an economically practical alternative to coal-fired power, and the average hog farmer cannot afford to install a digester without significant subsidization, the technology at least offers one method for transforming the potential liability of a large load of manure into a community asset.

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency works to establish guidelines to regulate air emissions from large confined livestock facilities and existing laws mandate such farms maintain tight controls to keep effluent out of rivers and streams, Indiana will convene an Agriculture Regulatory Committee “to review all agriculture regulations and rules to insure that they are science-based, not redundant with other regulations, and most ideally suited in their agency of origin.” A separate team involving industry, state and federal officials will be organized to review Confined Animal Feeding Operations and Confined Feeding Operations rules and processes and “offer a holistic new approach by August.”

The Daniels Administration hopes reducing regulatory red tape — in terms of instituting quicker turn-around times for confined feeding permit applications, for instance — will drive expansion in the livestock sector, which will in turn lead to a cash infusion in rural areas as people come to work and do business with the new entities.

The quality of the jobs created in the green sector in terms of wages and skill level is up for debate in that there will be some low-paying jobs, but agriculture is becoming an increasingly sophisticated science — especially if farm boys begin learning how to operate systems like methane digesters. The general premise behind the effort to diversify the employment base is to avoid leaving the state’s workers and income too beholden to any one sector.

Daniels, with his soy biodiesel-powered RV One, and Lt. Gov. Skillman, with her ethanol-fueled Tahoe, are fashioning themselves as poster children for a state government committed to the use of farm-grown fuels. Their strategic plan calls for the development of a plan “to increase the state’s usage of ethanol and biodiesel to 10 percent of total fuel usage by 2010.”

These are just a few of the many initiatives the administration committed to with the release of the 52-page strategic plan for Indiana agriculture, available online at www.in.gov. The document provides citizens with a roadmap to track Daniels’ promises and a base by which to judge his progress in greening the Hoosier economy. For those too busy to read the whole plan, the Indiana State Fair, set to run Aug. 10-21, is a good place to digest some Indiana pork and learn about the importance of pork — and the agricultural sector at large — to the state’s economic viability.

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