By ANN ALLEN
LEESBURG, Ind. — Four years after she rode into Tom Farms’ first customer, landlord and vendor appreciation dinner on a tractor, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman was back at the farm Aug. 23 to tout Hoosier agriculture.
“They said this dinner would be in Kip Tom’s barn,” she joked as she looked at 400 guests seated at tables in a building that normally houses the farm’s fleet of John Deere equipment. “Where I come from, we’d call this a ballroom.”
Skillman recently presented the state’s AgriVision award to Tom, managing member of the multi-generation, family-owned farm whose 27 employees farm 16,000 acres in five northern Indiana counties as well as 4,000 acres in Argentina.
In introducing her, Tom said, “Becky made a campaign promise to improve Indiana agriculture, and she’s kept it. She’s been relentless in boosting Indiana’s agricultural sector.”
Two large-screen televisions kept a constant flow of statistics behind his comments: Of 300 million people in the United States, only two million farm. Of that number, 300,000 are family corn farmers. One bushel of corn can sweeten 400 cans of pop. The average person consumes 45 acres of corn in a lifetime. One U.S. farmer feeds 155 people.
In addition to serving as lieutenant governor, Skillman manages the Indiana Department of Agriculture, the Office of Energy Development, the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the Office of Tourism Development, as well as being the state’s first secretary of agriculture. She described the latter title as the most rewarding of her long political career.
“Agriculture in Indiana is a booming industry,” she said. “The drought this year has been tough – all 92 counties have been declared primary or contiguous county natural disaster areas, making them eligible for emergency low-interest loan through the Farm Service Agency.
“If there is a silver lining in the drought, it’s the huge attention being focused on farming,” she added, noting the state has set up a website for farmers and others to obtain drought information. It’s at www.drought IN.gov
Backed by statistics showing that 62,000 farms contribute $26 billion a year to the state’s economy while employing 19 percent of the workforce, Skillman said the state has seen $6.2 billion invested in new food and agricultural ventures. In that same period, 7,200 new agriculture jobs were created.
She said she has led six successful trade mission trips to China, Taiwan, Japan, Costa Rica and Vietnam. The Vietnamese sent an exploratory team to Indiana five weeks later for a visit. Indiana exports to China have increased by 500 percent in the last 10 years, she said.
“We take very seriously our ability to feed the world,” she added, noting the Indiana Grown promotion of fruit, vegetables, sorghum and Christmas trees, as well as the Certified Livestock Producers program.
Indiana is recognized as the most ag-friendly state in the country and one of its best conservation partners, Skillman said. “We hope the next administration can pick up and carry on from here.”
Lance Woodbury, a western Kansas consultant who has worked with Tom Family Farms for the past three years, opened the night’s dinner by praising the farm’s team for good planning for the future, for surrounding itself with good people and for focusing on leadership.
“The three tips I’d give each of you, in your business or in your family,” he told attendees, “is to keep communication open, know with certainty what you want to accomplish and to commit to gratitude. Tell each other what you want; thank each other for what they do for you and for your organization. Talk.”