New ISDA chief discusses farmland-economic development debate
The newly-named director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture says disappearing farmland as a result of economic development can be a difficult conversation. Some see the sale of farmland as a loss of heritage, while others see the potential upside, such as job creation. Don Lamb, who is a second-generation farmer from Boone County, says having those discussions is essential.
“How does the agricultural world of economic development mix with the state’s view of economic development? How do we work together to make sure those things are working together is a big deal?” said Lamb in an interview with Inside Indiana Business.
Lamb was tapped by Gov. Eric Holcomb to take over the ISDA post. He succeeds Bruce Kettler, who stepped down in January to become president and CEO of the Agribusiness Council of Indiana.
He is co-owner and operator of Lamb Farms Inc., along with his brother and father. The Lebanon-based farm produces popcorn, corn, soybeans and wheat.
As a farmer and landowner, Lamb says he is concerned about farmland when it is sold for commercial development, but he also sees the potential economic upside.
“It’s an age-old question, an age-old problem. The same conversations have been happening my whole life. And so, it’s not a new question,” said Lamb.
While not a new question, the topic has recently re-emerged in Boone County, where the state wants to develop the 6,600-acre Limitless Exploration/Advanced Pace (LEAP) Innovation District. Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co. (NYSE: LLY) has already announced plans to invest $2.1 billion to develop a manufacturing campus.
The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has identified about 11,000 acres in Boone County for the large-scale research and innovation park due to its location between Indianapolis and Purdue University and its proximity to I-65.
The city of Lebanon has already annexed several thousand acres, and the state is buying land, some of it farmland. Lamb told Inside INdiana Business he does not own any of the land under consideration for the development.
“There’s a big thing about property rights as a farmer. You really want to be able to do what you can do with your own property,” said Lamb. “And if that means somebody is going to give you a quite a bit of money to develop it, you don’t like to limit that for farmers.”
He says the conversation must go both ways with all parties willing to step back and look at the big picture and broader implications to determine what is the best for the future.
“It’s a tough question, but it’s not a question that can’t be answered. It’ll just take time and a lot of good communication,” Lamb said.
LISTEN: Lamb explains to Inside INdiana Business reporter Wes Mills the important discussions that are being had about disappearing farmland and economic development.
In addition to economic development, Lamb says one of his priorities will be the continuing adoption of conservation practices by Indiana farmers. The family business owns AgRecycle, a composting and recycling business. Lamb says it can be an important tool in a farmer’s portfolio.
“Anything that once was alive can be composted. When you think about things that are currently going in a landfill, there’s lots of opportunities to divert that from a landfill and use it as an agricultural input,” explained Lamb. “Ten years from now, it will be very interesting to see how many things we might divert from the landfill and use it as an input on a farm field.”
Lamb credits Kettler for leaving ISDA in a strong position. When he starts the job later this month, Lamb says he will start by listening, learning, and leaning on the staff to help guide him.
But he also says a lifetime in agriculture helped prepare him for this job.
“Agriculture has been good to me and not just as a lifestyle. I’ve really been able to see the benefits of agriculture,” said Lamb. “It really feels like there’s been a little preparation for this moment where I might be able to give back to an industry that I’ve gained a lot from for a lot of years.”
In 2012, the farm started Agristewards, a nonprofit which teaches farming practices and subsistence farmers in Africa, Asia, the Caribbeans and Central America.
Lamb graduated from Purdue in 1989 with a degree in agricultural economics.