Ask most Americans to name an agricultural state and they will say Iowa. This is due, in part, to Iowa’s impressive agricultural production in corn, soybeans, livestock, dairy, and poultry, but it is also due to the fact that Iowan’s are, for the most part, proud of agriculture. It is part of their culture, their politics, their heritage, and their modern day identity. Agricultural issues are written about in their newspapers, broadcast on their local TV stations, and consume a good deal of their radio broadcast time. While other states can claim all of these as well, Iowa is generally acknowledged as the leader. Yet, Iowa may have some competition.
When Dow and DuPont decided to merge into a single behemoth corporate entity, they announced they would spin off their two agricultural divisions into one all ag company. Basically, this would mean putting DuPont Pioneer together with Dow AgroSciences to form a global, $18 billion heavyweight to compete with the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF, and Bayer. The conventional thinking was that this new major ag firm would be located in Iowa, since Pioneer already had its headquarters there. But, that is not how things turned out.
While Iowa officials launched a high profile campaign to land the headquarters of the yet to be named entity, Indiana put together a low key, full court press to challenge Iowa. According to those close to the negotiations, when Dow/DuPont top execs came to Indiana they had their minds pretty much made up that things were going to Iowa. Yet, as one of the members of the Hoosier team said, “We knocked their socks off.” A combination of a pro-business and pro-agriculture atmosphere impressed the top brass. In the end, it was decided to have two Global Business Centers, one in Iowa and the other in Indiana.
For the past decade, Indiana has been cultivating a climate that is supportive of agriculture. Not only is it supportive of agriculture within the state, but also supportive of attracting agricultural investment from outside the state. The first round came with the renewable fuels boom. Late to the game and, well behind Iowa, Indiana made up ground quickly by attracting billions of dollars to build new ethanol and biodiesel plants in the state. In recent years, the focus has shifted to attracting food processing plants. When Governor Pence ran for his first term, the foundation of his agricultural policy was innovation in agriculture. He had the vision to make Indiana a center of research and innovation for agriculture and food production. It is this policy that enabled the Hoosier State to put together the kind of package that was able to compete with Iowa and land this major global agricultural business.
Indiana is gaining a reputation as a major ag player in other areas. As a specialist in swine genetics, Whiteshire Hamroc, based in Fort Wayne, was recently featured in Bloomberg Business news. The article focused on the growth of the animal genetics industry, especially in developing countries where demand for meat is growing. Indiana-based Beck’s Hybrids has been making news as it expands into the Western Corn Belt; and Jiff Simmons, President of Elanco, is recognized as an international authority of innovation and food sustainability.
Where Indiana is still lacking is getting the majority of Hoosiers to understand that they live in a key agricultural state. Most of Indiana’s residents identify with motorsports, basketball, and manufacturing. Many residents of even our smaller communities see farming as a source of possible pollution rather than a source of jobs and local economic activity. More work needs to be done to get more of the 6.2 million Hoosiers on the Ag bandwagon.
Indiana is celebrating its Bicentennial this year. During this celebration, there will be a lot of talk about how agriculture is part of the Hoosier heritage and of the role it played in the formation of the state and its culture. But, what also needs to be showcased is how agriculture is part of the Indiana future. Biotechnology, life sciences, food production, and renewable energy will all see significant growth and innovation in the next 100 years. If these become the centerpiece of the Hoosier economy and culture, look out Iowa!
By Gary Truitt