By MEGGIE I. FOSTER
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As a bit of a shock to ag media mongers, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced on Saturday that Hoosier dairy farmer and well-known agriculture advocate Joe Kelsay will serve as the next director of the State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) beginning in November.
And soon to be packing her bags for Capitol Hill, current ISDA Director Anne Hazlett has recently been called to serve in a new, broader capacity as chief counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry under ranking member U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss in Washington, D.C.
The news whirlwind hit the fan during the Indiana Farm Bureau delegate session in Indianapolis on Aug. 29.
“When an opportunity of this nature presents itself, it’s hard to say no,” said Kelsay, who readily admitted his initial shock following a phone call from the Lt. Governor’s office just two short weeks ago. “After much prayer and discussion with my family, we came to the conclusion that this is an opportunity of a lifetime to be able to pursue my great passion for agriculture in a new role.”
As the Indiana agriculture director, Kelsay will lead the state’s efforts to promote and strengthen the ag industry, under the recently revised strategic plan.
“My goal is to keep the momentum that Anne has created, moving forward Indiana’s agriculture industry into a bigger part of the state’s economic revitalization plan,” said Kelsay. “Really, a big part of the agenda is already laid out in the strategic plan.”
Kelsay, who has been farming full-time with his brother, Russ and father, Merrill since his 1999 graduation from Purdue University’s College of Agriculture said his experience as a 6th generation dairy farmer has prepared him well for this position.
“I’ve been at the top of a grain leg, milked cows, driven a tractor and been in the trenches of agriculture, if you will,” he explained. “So I feel like I have a good understanding of the risks and rewards of farming, the challenges of profitability in a sometimes unstable environment.”
In addition to the Kelsays commercial dairy and grain operation, Joe and his wife, Amy manage a farm tour business, Kelsay Farm Tours, LLC, which teaches thousands of children and families each year about life on the farm. Beyond his experience in production agriculture, Kelsay has held a wide variety of leadership positions including serving as the Indiana FFA State Vice President from 1995 to 1996, chairman of the state young farmer committee under Indiana Farm Bureau and president of the Indiana Professional Dairy Producers. Also, he is a member of the Purdue University Dean of Agriculture’s Advisory Council, as well as the ISDA Agriculture Advisory Board.
With a clear history of leadership, Kelsay describes himself as a visionary and a team player based on his previous business and entrepreneurial experience.
“I’ve come to know that ISDA already has a great team, a tremendous group of dedicated employees that know and love their job,” he explained. “In the director’s role, I’ll have the chance to hear ideas and share new ones.”
I’m a visionary in the sense of what is and what could be, in terms of setting new goals under the strategic plan,” he added. “I’ll be serving as the coach of a great team, moving agriculture to a better place. Whenever you can surround yourself with that kind of talent, the sky is the limit.”
Kelsay will take on his new post, following fall harvest in November.
“There will be some significant changes for me in the next few months, but I want to maintain my connection to the farm, it helped me to be the person that I am today,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m still a dairy farmer, someone with a tremendous passion for agriculture because I realize the impact it has made on me and my family. It’s the dream of anyone to work in an industry, in a field they love and want to improve.”
“I cannot think of a person more suited for this critical leadership role than Joe,” said Skillman. “With his zeal for agriculture, proven leadership abilities, and entrepreneurial spirit, Joe will be a tremendous asset for all facets of Indiana agriculture. I am very much looking forward to working with him as we continue to grow the agriculture sector to an even greater piece of our state’s economic revitalization.”
Ms. Hazlett goes to Washington
Hazlett, who has served as the ISDA director since January 2009 will return to Washington and into the wake of the Obama Administration in what she terms as “one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make.”
It came down to where I can make the biggest impact,” she said. “When I looked at the issues at hand in the legislation right now such as climate change, government jurisdiction over water and antibiotic use, I found that I was called to take my talents, skills to D.C. to go to work for agriculture.”
In her new role, Hazlett will serve as the chief counsel for the Republican lawyers of the senate ag committee in D.C., where she was be engaged in reading and drafting legislation, as well as negotiating issues at the staff level.
Some of the key issues on the senate ag committee’s agenda include: financial regulatory reform, food safety, climate change and nutrition programs and issues such as childhood obesity.
“I like to think that I’m not leaving Indiana agriculture, but going to work for them in a different setting, where there is a tremendous need right now,” Hazlett added.
“Anne’s passion for agriculture helped the State Department of Agriculture surge forward, strengthen partnerships, and set the course for the future,” said Skillman. “Talent like that doesn’t go unnoticed. Fortunately, in her new position, she will continue to work everyday to allow agriculture to flourish in Indiana and across the country.”
Until her departure in late October, Hazlett said that she will be working closely with Kelsay to allow a “smooth transition” of leadership and in continuance of the momentum generated by the strategic plan.
Hazlett also went on to explain that she assisted in the selection of Kelsay as the new director once she defined key attributes of a good director in a sit-down discussion with Gov. Mitch Daniels and Skillman.
“Joe was someone who displayed the key characteristics that are needed to serve as director,” she said, defining attributes such as a “communicator, a strong voice, someone good at implementation and consensus building – someone good at bringing distant interests together at a common table.”
While she served the as agriculture director just under a year, Hazlett said she is extremely appreciative of the “support” provided by the agriculture community of Indiana.
“I just want to thank them for supporting me and for how much they’ve taught me,” Hazlett said. “I don’t want them to think of it as me leaving because I am planning on doing everything I can to fight for Indiana agriculture in my new role.”