Agriculture experts educate lawmakers

By Adrianna Pitrelli
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Rebecca Schroeder made a two-and-a-half-hour trip to the Statehouse from her northeast Indiana home so her daughter can have a career in Indiana agriculture.

“I want there to be opportunities for her in the future in Indiana so she doesn’t have to go to another state to follow her dream of livestock agriculture,” Schroeder, a farmer, who came to show support for the agricultural industry, said.

Jeff Cummins, director of policy and regulatory affairs for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, addresses a group of lawmakers Tuesday. He spoke about the economic impacts of CAFOs on the state. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com

The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources met Tuesday to familiarize themselves with what livestock agriculture has to offer and to learn about the relationship between county and state regulations.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Indiana Soybean Alliance were among those who talked to the eight-person committee.

Josh Trenary, executive director of Indiana Pork, said he is glad lawmakers are learning more about the agricultural industry and what it can offer Indiana, so the state can move forward with improving the industry.

The conversation with lawmakers comes after Senate Bill 1494 failed during the 2017 legislative session. The legislation would have amended the law on confined animal feeding operations, often referred to as CAFOs. Critics worried the bill would allow existing Indiana CAFOs to expand. Some neighbors argued the noise and smells from the large farms can be harmful to their quality of life.

Trenary said the bill would have fixed grey areas in state environmental regulations as there were some parts of the law — which was most recently updated in 2012 — that needed clarity.

“It was in that process that we realized much more education needed to be done in the legislature and hopefully this committee is going to provide us an outlook to do some of that,” he said.

Despite the controversy around CAFOs, Carolyn Orr, of the Midwestern Legislative Conference, endorsed them, saying they are quality, family-operated farms that produce great products and aren’t just run of the mill.

“You cannot connect size with environmental issues or issues about lack of quality,” Orr said. “It has nothing to do with size and CAFOs are important.”

While Orr said the best way for CAFOs to continue to expand and produce quality products is to not allow the states to over regulate farms, no one was present to testify against CAFOs.

Each agency representative who testified Tuesday said farms have a fiscal impact on the state and with more farms comes more money and more jobs.

According to a IU Kelley School of Business study, 107,000 people work on farms in Indiana. For every 10 jobs in agriculture, eight are made in other industries, like drivers and manufacturers. Indiana has more than 57,000 farms which span about 257 acres per farm and 97 percent of them are family-owned.

“There is a $31.2 billion direct economic impact by Indiana’s farms, including money from agriculture, processing and manufacturing,” Jeff Cummins, of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said. “In one year, we did $911 million dollars in state in local tax revenue.”

Cummins said Indiana is doing well, but there is a chance to maximize agricultural opportunities.

Schroeder, who is president of Whiteshire Hamroc, an Albion-based family farming operation, said she hopes lawmakers will understand more about the impact of agriculture so they’ll support future opportunities to expand.

“Ag is very innovative,” Schroeder said. “Everyone needs it every day. There aren’t a lot of industries that people have to rely on every single day. We all love to eat and that we as producers are getting the word out there.”

Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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