Both candidates for lt. governor found some common ground- something they could agree on during their debate at the Indiana State Fair last week. The debate was held in the Indiana Farm Bureau Building cafeteria on Wed., Aug 13.
Lt. Governor and Secretary of Agriculture Becky Skillman, R, Bedford, and Representative Dennie Oxley, Democrat, English, running mate with Jennifer Long Thompson, didn't agree often during the debate. Skillman tended to look at the glass as half full, touting how much improvement the Daniels administration had made in reversing Indiana's economic fortunes since taking office three and one-half years ago. Meanwhile, Oxley presented a glass half-empty, pointing out statistics that don't put Indiana in a favorable light nationwide, and insisting that Indiana can do better economically that it has performed during the past four years.
When it came to rural development, however, they did have at least one point in common. Both agree that large livestock operations present opportunities for small towns and communities in rural areas, where large businesses are scarce. Businesses pay taxes and bring in income, as do large livestock operations.
"Every dollar that a livestock producer spends locally turns over at least two to three times," Skillman pointed out. "This is one of the ways to improve the economy in rural areas."
The Indianan State Department of Agriculture, created since Skillman and Daniels took office, adopted an aggressive seven-point strategy during its year of existence, in 2005. One plank of that seven- plank plan was to double hog production by around 2020. The logic was that agriculture was a key part of getting Indiana's economy kick-started, and that by focusing on one aspect of livestock production, hogs, there was a better shot of showing progress than by taking a shotgun approach.
Numbers of hogs haven't doubled yet, but they are up about 25% from that point, Skillman notes. Total hog numbers are still well below all-time record high numbers in Indiana. And right now, hog farmers are suffering from high feed prices, while only a few producers have so far elected to significantly cut back on breeding herd numbers, or liquidate completely.
Oxley agreed that livestock production was key to helping rebuild economies in rural areas. Helping rural communities improve themselves in each and every one of Indiana's 92 counties is a centerpiece of the plan he and Thompson have proposed.
"The only difference is that we want to see everyone at the table, not just hog producers," he says. "All livestock producers should be included in plans to build the industry.
"We also have to make sure that we protect the environment at the same time. Bringing everyone to the table would be an important first step in moving forward."