Initiative raises $1M to boost science-based ag businesses

Agriculture is Indiana’s past, but it can be its economic future too.

That’s the message a new business development organization called AgriNovus will start trumpeting Wednesday.

AgriNovus has attracted nearly $1 million in funding to find ways to help Indiana’s agricultural businesses and researchers figure out ways to produce more food to feed the world’s growing population.

The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to more than 9 billion in the next two decades, spurring huge demand for innovative companies to wring more food out of the same amount of land and water available for raising crops.

“Indiana has long been known as a prominent agriculture state. Looking ahead, we must continue to enhance our production capabilities but now more vocally promote the innovative talent and technologies of Indiana as well,” said Beth Bechdol, a former deputy director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture who will serve as executive director of AgriNovus.

The state of Indiana will contribute $300,000 toward the effort, with the rest of the money coming from 13 ag businesses and Purdue University.

In addition to unveiling its name Wednesday, AgriNovus also released an 88-page report detailing the size and scope of what it called Indiana’s “agbioscience” industry.

The industry employs nearly 134,000 people, paying total wages of $5.8 billion per year, according to the report, which was produced by Ohio-based consulting firm Battelle.

Indiana has nearly three times as many workers, as a proportion of its overall workforce, employed in the agbioscience field than is the case for the rest of the country, according to Battelle’s analysis. That means agbioscience is an even bigger part of Indiana’s economy than pharmaceuticals and medical devices.

More than half of Indiana’s agriculture workers aren’t engaged in farming, but are instead working in highly innovative companies making new kinds of seeds, genetically engineered animals, doing data analysis or developing robot-controlled farm equipment.

Those nearly 69,000 nonfarm workers earn average annual wages of nearly $54,000—which is 30-percent higher than the state’s average, according to the report.

Indiana has been adding jobs in those sectors faster than the national average, Battelle found. Employment grew nearly 12 percent in the decade from 2003 to 2012, compared with a small decline in overall employment in Indiana’s entire private sector economy.

During the recession years of 2009 to 2012, Indiana’s nonfarm agriculture businesses outperformed their peers nationally, growing jobs by about 4 percent. But those sectors somewhat lagged statewide growth in private sector jobs, which totaled 5.3 percent during those years.

Indiana also boasts quite a bit of agriculture research. From 2009 to 2013, the state’s institutions turned out 3,371 scientific publications and generated 823 patents.

Purdue led these efforts, spending $118 million on agriculture research in 2012, up by 34 percent from its level of research spending in 2003.

The research and innovation happening in agriculture means it wil be a highly valuable, growing industry for years to come, said David Johnson, CEO of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, the entity that has created AgriNovus.

“This is a legitimate, rising, exciting pillar, not just of the past, the 19th Century, but of the future,” Johnson said.

AgriNovus is the fifth economic development initiative launched by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, a group of 55 executives of Indiana’s large corporations and universities. The other initiatives launched by CICP are BioCrossroads for life sciences, TechPoint for information technology, Conexus for manufacturing and logistics and Energy Systems Network for clean energy.

Indiana’s leading agriculture companies are spread throughout the state, from Dow Agrosciences LLC in Indianapolis and Elanco Animal Health in Greenfield, to Whiteshire Hamroc in Albion. Whiteshire Hamroc ships genetically modified swing all over the world, generating $12 million in annual revenue.

“Agbioscience-based economic development holds promise for enhancing the economic development of rural, small town and urban communities alike—with activities across a broad value-chain,” the Battelle researchers wrote. “While other advanced technology sectors have tended to grow in highly concentrated geographic clusters, agbiosciences build upon a geographically distributed production environment and are one of the few high-tech sectors able to have a robust impact on rural America.”

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