By Michele F. Mihaljevich
INDIANAPOLIS – When Don Lamb received a phone call asking if he’d be interested in being the new director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA), he was initially cautious about taking on the role.
“My first reaction was definitely, ‘boy, I don’t know if I could do that or not because I’m a farmer, and that’s what I do and how would I do that and be a farmer’,” he said. “My first reaction was caution for sure. Then it became a process of talking that through, first with my wife (Jodie), of course, and then with my farm family.
“The more we talked, the more we realized, well, we could do it and maybe we should do it. It’s definitely been very much a team effort, my wife and my brother (Dean) especially. I just could not do it without their support.”
Lamb, a second-generation farmer in Boone County, Ind., was named ISDA director by Gov. Eric Holcomb March 1. He’ll start his new duties March 13.
He praised the leadership of his predecessors, Ted McKinney and Bruce Kettler, adding the department has a good team in place. There wasn’t a need to bring in someone to fix a problem or something similar, Lamb noted.
“I think there was a desire to have a farmer in the position if that was possible,” he explained. “There hasn’t been the last few and obviously, that’s worked and it’s been good, but I think (there was) the idea of having a farmer that would understand the clients that we’re serving here at ISDA from the ground level up. I keep using the word grassroots. I feel like that’s what I can bring, a grassroots experience to the job.”
Lamb, his brother, their father Bob, and Don’s nephews raise popcorn, corn, soybeans and wheat. In addition to Lamb Farms, they own a composting business, AgRecycle, and Lamb Farms Agronomy, which provides agronomy products and services.
Bob Lamb grew up in Indianapolis, but visited friends who lived on farms in Pike Township. He always thought farming would be a good opportunity, Don said. Bob studied business at Butler University, went into the military and was stationed in Italy with the U.S. Air Force. He rented a farm through the mail.
“I’m really proud of him,” Don stated. “He really took a chance to start farming on his own and I’m kind of reaping the benefits of that. (Renting the farm was) an interesting start really from scratch with no experience and no capital. But it was just a desire. My dad always says he believes in some ways, farming kind of has to be in your heart somewhere and he just thinks he was born with that.”
Lamb said his background in farming and his interest in policy will benefit him in his new role.
“When you think about soil and water conservation being a big push here at the department, I’m used to dealing with that on the ground level. I know what it’s like to plant cover crops, I know what it’s like to do no-till, the things that we’re trying to do to improve water quality in the big picture. I have experience with what it’s like to do that, both the benefits and the challenges. It makes me anxious to get involved with that part of what’s happening.
“I’ve always liked policy through my early years with farm bureau, being involved in the state young farmer committee early on, learning what policy development was like. That group here is really strong.”
He said initially, his priority is simply to be a part of the ISDA team, which he noted is made up of people doing really good work. “I need to learn, I need to listen a lot, and learn a lot, and then figure out what I can do just to help them do their jobs better. I don’t have to come in with a specific agenda just because there’s so many good things already happening.”
Lamb said he also wants to visit with farmers across the state.
“As a farmer from where I’m at, everybody tends to see what’s in their backyard, so part of my challenge is to do that first, get out around the state because the challenges can be completely different. In my world I think about economic development being a big part of it just because there is a lot of land being converted from farmland. Where do we fit into that, how do we create value for agriculture in that?”
Holcomb said in a statement that Lamb understands the significant and leading role the agriculture industry plays in the state. In looking for a new ISDA director, the governor said, “It was important to find someone who would be a strong steward of our land and all that it produces. Don truly cares about the Hoosier ag community and securing Indiana’s place as a global leader in the agricultural industry for generations to come.”
Randy Kron, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau, said in a statement, “As a farmer, local official and leader, (Lamb) understands agriculture and what it means to this great state. It’s wonderful to see a farmer who has been active and engaged in growing the agriculture industry step into this important role and have a seat at the table at the highest levels of state government.”
Lamb has a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics from Purdue University, and is a member of the advisory council for the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation.
He was named the Outstanding Young Farmer of Boone County in 1996 and Agricultural Professional of the Year in 2014 by the Boone County Chamber of Commerce.