Driving through Johnson County, one sees wide expanses of farmland that remain throughout most of the county.
More than 70 percent of all land is used for farming. But increasing development and population growth could threaten the agricultural acreage necessary to support the community in the future.
That’s why it’s vital to continue supporting technological advancements in farming, said Joe Kelsay, Whiteland dairy farmer and senior manager for Dow AgriSciences.
“The opportunities we have to use our resources and the ability we have to use those resources better helps us to help folks do other things with their energy, with their time, with their talent, with their education,” he said. “We can spare land to build factories, retail sales areas, roads and infrastructure because fewer and fewer people are doing better at the farming they’re doing.”
Kelsay delivered that message to the Johnson County Development Corp. during its annual meeting Wednesday. How the county balances food production and economic development will go far in determining its potential, he said.
His message served as a complement to the organization’s goal of adding business and provided ideas on how the county’s agricultural foundation can add to that success.
“There is a growing connectedness between different industries, different businesses, the private sector, the public sector, and how we can all work together to make this a better place to call home,” Kelsay said. “We’re trying to find things to really play to each other’s strengths.”
In addition to his work at Dow AgriSciences, Kelsay is partner at Kelsay Farms. The dairy operation started as a land grant in 1837 and has remained in the family ever since. From 2009 to 2013, he was director of the Indiana Department of Agriculture. He has seen changes in agriculture and has paid close attention to what will prove to be an increasing reliance on farms in the coming years.
With global population expected to top 9 billion by 2050, farmers and the agriculture business have had to find ways to use limited soil, water and sunshine to produce more food, he said. That will be achieved through efficiencies in all areas of farming, from growing to storage to consumption. Technology, such as genetic modification, has allowed farmers to increase yields, reduce the use of insecticide and become more stable, he added.
Kelsay said continuing to invest in those types of developments will help make Johnson County a stronger place for both agriculture and industry.
“We’ll figure out how to do and how to innovate and how to change the kinds of products we’ll do. Maybe it’ll be through science. Maybe it’ll be by figuring out how to make sunshine more relevant. Maybe it’ll be changing the soil,” he said. “Maybe it’ll be the people in the community who solve those problems.”
That could be a potential focus for the Johnson County Development Corp., which already has focused on areas such as agritourism and agribusiness.
Last year, the agency brought $98 million in capital improvement to the county, including new companies, such as ULTA, and facilitated the growth of businesses, such as Interstate Warehousing and Hetsco. Those developments created a projected 817 jobs in the county and retained 356 others, totaling $46 million in payroll.
“This is evidence that there is still a lot of confidence in the U.S. economy and a lot of confidence in Johnson County,” said Cheryl Morphew, president and chief executive officer of the development corporation.
One of the success stories was helping Whiteland develop a 150-acre business park, with a Duke Energy Site Readiness Grant to create a detailed site report for the development off Interstate 65. The goal is to help Whiteland complete recommendations, such as environmental studies, rezoning the land for industrial use and bringing a larger water line to the property, Morphew said.
The development corporation also is working to expand its Aspire Johnson County initiative, which combines the talents of more than 130 business and civic leaders to make the county a destination, she said.