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Days of Future Past

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The State of Indiana has officially concluded its bicentennial celebration; and this column will be the last that looks at our agricultural heritage and how it has influenced us today. But rather than being just a look back, it will be a look forward to how one attribute of Hoosier farmers will shape our state and the food, fiber, and energy production of the entire world. That attribute is innovation.

As Purdue historian Doug Hurt put it, “Indiana farmers have always been early adopters of new technology.” As farm work moved from hand power to horse power and later to mechanical power, Indiana farmers were quick to use these new methods of farming. This trend continued as chemical fertilizers and hybrid seeds came long. With the advent of the digital revolution and precision farming, this willingness to try new things continues.

However, the Hoosier State also has a heritage of innovation.  From inventing new technology to implementing new technology, Indiana agriculture has been a leader. Having a resource like Purdue University has certainly been a catalyst behind this.  The fact that the newly merged Dow/DuPont company, which will be the largest U.S.-based seed and crop protection company in the world, will have its major research facility in Indiana is not a coincidence. As historian Hurt pointed out, much of Indiana’s success in manufacturing is because of its strong and innovative agriculture base. Indiana’s renewable fuels and growing food processing industries are an example on how agriculture is supporting industrial growth and expansion in the state.

This spirit of innovation and collaboration between research, farming, and industry will need to continue into the future if we are to meet the environmental and food production challenges that will face us in the next 100 years. Farmers will have to produce more food on less land, with fewer inputs and changing weather patterns. The food, fuel, and pharmaceutical industries will have to develop new products and processes to meet changing consumer trends, government regulations, and new disease and resistance issues.

Indiana is already laying the groundwork to meet these challenges with a life sciences initiative that brings together agriculture and pharmaceutical groups and with AgriNovus, an organization designed to foster invasion and commercialization of new food production technology. Now all of this may seem a bit pie in the sky given today’s reality of $3 corn and declining profits in almost every sector of farming. While this is a cyclical downturn that will be reversed in the coming years, it is vital that agriculture have a stable and steady economic base to provide growth opportunities for family farms.

Our heritage of innovation is the key to our future. Agriculture is a sector that is always in a state of transition. Innovation has fueled our growth in the past and has positioned U.S. family farms in a way that allows them to compete today in a global market. Our past must also be our future. Innovation and adoption of new technology will keep Indiana and the U.S. on a path of growth and prosperity.

By Gary Truitt