Summit: Opportunities abound in agriculture

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — There are opportunities in Indiana agriculture.

That was the main message Jordan Seger, deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and a Dubois County native, shared at the 2019 Southwest Indiana Agriculture Economic Summit Friday at Vincennes University Jasper Campus.

The event brought in experts from around the state to talk about issues the agriculture industry is facing, including educating the future generation of agriculture workers, mitigating weather risks, the economic outlook for various commodities and opportunities for Indiana farmers.

Turns out, opportunities abound. Indiana is one of the leading states in the nation when it comes to agriculture, Seger said, especially when it comes to hardwood — Indiana is No. 1 in the nation for hardwood exports — and crops of all sorts.

“The fact of the matter is we are really good at [agriculture],” Seger said.

Despite the state’s agriculture prowess, Seger said there is still room for improvement, especially when it comes to broadband internet access in the state’s rural areas.

Although agriculture and internet access aren’t always connected in people’s minds, Seger explained that to stay on the cutting edge in the industry, people in the industry have to be able to connect. The newest technology requires a high speed internet connection, and increasingly business is being done online.

Yet according to state data Seger shared, only 70% of Dubois County has access to reliable high-speed internet.

“High-speed internet is that next big need,” Seger said. “It will be, if it’s not already, as important as electricity. This is something everyone needs to link arms and figure out. This is the future.”

Dubois Strong Director Ed Cole said broadband access is on local leaders’ minds, and a countywide committee recently formed to look at how to bring high speed internet to the county’s rural areas. The committee is still in its beginning stages, Cole said.

Seger also said there are opportunities for Indiana farmers in industrial hemp, although he warned it’s a high-risk area of the industry that is a bit like “the wild west” right now.

“This is not marijuana,” Seger said. “It smells similar, but you can’t get high off it.”

Seger cautioned that there is not a lot of research on commercially grown industrial hemp since it has been illegal both as a commercial and research crop for several decades. The government only recently opened it up for research, and the first growing season in Indiana will be 2020.

“It is extremely high risk,” Seger said. “I can’t put a big enough exclamation point on that.”

Farmers in other states have been growing the crop and have seen some success, Seger said, and it is getting used in the CBD oil industry and as an alternative to plastic and some fibers.

Seger said the industry is also seeing trends in increased calls for sustainability, niche markets such as Indiana grown, organic, non-GMO crops and new diets that call for more plant-based proteins.

“I think they are real trends,” Seger said. “They’re more than just fads.”

With the current changes in agriculture and Indiana’s prowess in the industry, Seger’s main message seemed to be that Hoosiers will still be able to find success in agriculture for years to come.

“The very high-paying career paths exist now,” Seger said. “They are real.”




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