Farmers share concerns with Lt. Gov.
By Jo Ann Spieth-Saylor, Editor, [email protected]rat.com
Some area farmers and others had a chance to voice concerns to Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch during an informal gathering last Wednesday afternoon at Indiana Farm Bureau in Corydon. The round-table discussion was put together by State Sen. Kevin Boehlein, R-Greenville, and also attended by State Rep. J. Michael Davisson, R-Salem.
Introducing Crouch, Boehlein said he thinks Indiana has the “most experienced” lieutenant governor in the state’s history, citing her background as Vanderburgh County Republican chairperson, county auditor then state auditor before becoming second in command to the governor.
“She does a fantastic job,” he said. “She’s also the most accessible lieutenant governor in my time.”
Crouch, who was scheduled to leave for Israel the following day, outlined how her role as lieutenant governor includes overseeing the Indiana Office of Community & Rural Affairs and Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority as well as serving as Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development.
She noted that agriculture is a $31 billion industry for the state, which ranks 10th in the nation.
“Agriculture is huge in Indiana,” she said.
Crouch told the farmers she has heard their “challenges,” which include the higher cost of fertilizer and fuel.
Cameron Churchill, a farmer from the Depauw area, told Crouch how his operation has cut back this year as “everything affects us.”
He encouraged the state to help the region with the start-up of a processing plant, similar to Sanders in Celestine. Churchill said the estimated cost for such a facility is between $4 million to $6 million.
“We need more help to get these plants open and going,” he said. “People like to buy local.”
Crouch noted that one thing COVID-19 did was put more focus on buying local.
Churchill also asked that edible products have what he termed “better labeling.”
Guy Heitkemper, a grain farmer from the Elizabeth area, questioned why the state has cut back on mowing of rights-of-way. He said the lack of mowing allows the growth of poisonous hemlock and Johnson grass.
Crouch, who said mowing practices differ throughout the state, suggested locals meet with officials from the Indiana Dept. of Transportation
Boehlein said he would arrange such a meeting.
Floyd County resident Dennis Konkle talked about the overcrowding of schools there with the agriculture people having to help pay a hefty portion in taxes if more school buildings are constructed. There is also a lack of opportunity for students to participate in ag-related activities such as FFA.
Crouch said her home county also doesn’t have an FFA chapter.
“If we don’t educate and expose young people to agriculture, who are we going to have farm in the future?” she asked.
Crouch said an additional $250 million investment in broadband in 2021 is “key to keeping young people on our farms.”
Kevin Baird, who grows pumpkins near Scottsburg, said a big problem for his operation is labor.
“Technology is great,” he said but not everything can be done with robots. “Is there something we can do to get part-time labor (in Indiana)?”
Comments were made that building trade programs are big in schools right now but doing away with other cogs to the wheel is a disservice.
Boehlein told how former Harrison County Sheriff Rod Seelye started a business in Kentucky that provides non-violent inmates with an opportunity for employment, which can help with the part-time labor shortage. Seelye hasn’t started the program Indiana yet, Boehlein said.
David Gottbrath brought up a grain elevator that is to be constructed in southern Harrison County to serve the region.
“It would be really good for our farmers … to sell their crops there,” he said.
Heitkemper noted that farmers can get higher prices for their product in places not currently located along the Ohio River.
Darrell Voelker, director of the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., said the effort is underway for the grain elevator but it’s “slow going.”
Prior to Couch’s arrival, Boehlein gave a brief summary about this past legislative session, which included the passing of a tax abatement for farmers.
“As of today, you have the opportunity in the state of Indiana, if you choose, to ask for a tax abatement,” said Boeh-
lein, who was “third chair” for the piece of legislation.
Set to begin in June, the state’s utility tax will be removed, saving Hoosiers money, Boehlein said.
Davisson said farmers are “very well represented” at the Statehouse by Indiana Farm Bureau.