Farmer-led Indiana Smart Agriculture calls for climate change strategy in new report, invites partners to join conversation

January 13, 2023

It’s June 1. You’ve got 4,000 acres of corn and 2,500 acres of soybeans to plant. So far, you’ve planted 150 acres of corn, and 40 of them are underwater.

Can this scenario happen in Indiana?

“It already has—in 2019,” says Don Villwock, Edwardsport, a farmer and former president of Indiana Farm Bureau.

“Changes in weather patterns are real, and we need to learn how to adapt to them,” Villwock says. “It’s bigger than one farmer can face alone. We need everyone, plus help from our partners in agriculture, including Purdue Extension, agribusiness, Indiana State Department of Agriculture, and our Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.”

Villwock and Jason Henderson, director of Purdue Extension, took a big step toward creating a framework that would allow farmers, Extension, government and agribusiness to address the impacts of climate change by forming the Indiana Smart Agriculture (INSA) Work Group in February 2022 with support from Solutions from the Land and Purdue University’s College of Agriculture. INSA met three times last year to discuss the situation and identify ways to improve the economic and environmental sustainability of agriculture across the state.

“Despite our amazing evolution over time and impressive production statistics, our future is not assured and changing climatic conditions, combined with other challenges, threaten the economic viability and environmental sustainability of farms, ranches and woodlands across the state,” says Jason Henderson, senior associate dean in the Purdue University College of Agriculture and director of Purdue Extension.

Henderson and Don Villwock, farmer and past Indiana Farm Bureau president, co-chair the work group, which today has released its first report, “Indiana Smart Agriculture Report: A Vision and Roadmap for Indiana Climate-Smart Agriculture.” The document summarizes INSA’s work, findings and recommendations and is signed by 15 Indiana farmers and nine partners, including representatives from Purdue, USDA and Indiana Department of Agriculture.

The farmer-led Indiana Smart Agriculture Work Group agrees that:

  • Climate change is real and is not going away.
  • Driving forces for change (including weather events, crop and livestock losses, expectations of value chain partners and institutional investors, growth in governmental climate-smart agriculture program resources) are increasing.
  • Producers need to lead climate-smart agriculture conversations and adaptive management planning work.
  • The state and agriculture sector would benefit from the development of a farmer-led adaptation/mitigation strategy for presentation to their peers, policymakers, researchers and value-chain partners.

At the center of discussions was another reality: profitability.

“For agriculture to remain sustainable, it also has to be profitable,” says Villwock, adding that environmental improvement is also an area of focus that has already proven to improve on- and off-farm resilience. “There’s no one right solution to any of this, but we need to keep our minds open to new practices that would increase soil health, water quality and air quality.”

The Indiana Smart Agriculture Work Group invites all stakeholders, and especially young, next-generation farmers and ranchers, from across Indiana’s agriculture and forestry value chains to join the conversation.

The next step for INSA will be constructing and building support for a science-based, climate-smart action plan that can guide future policies, programs, partnerships, and investments needed for Indiana agriculture to adapt and thrive.

Farmers, farm and forestry groups, and any other interested parties can contact Ernie Shea, president of Solutions from the Land, at eshea@solutionsfromtheland.org to get involved.

“There is no time to waste,” says Dianna Rulon, a young farmer and agricultural attorney who contributed to the report. “We must work together to create a climate-smart agriculture strategy for Indiana agriculture, and it must begin now. Please join us in identifying, prioritizing and championing pragmatic, science-based steps that can be taken to keep Indiana agriculture vibrant and productive for generations.”

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