Starke County, Indiana – More than 25 Starke County farmers joined representatives from the Starke County Economic Development Foundation (SCEDF), Indiana Department of Agriculture, and Purdue Extension Starke County to share a conversation about opportunities related to growing alternative crops. Breakfast meetings were held on March 22 in North Judson and March 23 in Hamlet.
Connie Neininger from the Indiana Department of Agriculture shared information about their recent efforts to help grow Indiana's ag business. Through a partnership with local economic development leaders and Purdue's Center for Regional Development, the Department of Agriculture has initiated a strategy to identify ag opportunities. One of the targeted growth sectors is alternative crops, which are often in high demand and can create increased revenues for farmers.
At the North Judson meeting, Ron Turco from Purdue's Ag Department discussed the growing demand for industrial hemp. Industrial hemp contains less than 0.3% THC and is used in the production of thousands of products from nutraceuticals to textiles. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) estimated the total retail value of all hemp products sold in the U.S. at $620 million. Currently almost all of the raw hemp materials are imported from other countries. Hemp is an attractive rotation crop for farmers. As it grows, hemp breathes in CO2, detoxifies the soil, and prevents soil erosion. What’s left after harvest breaks down into the soil, providing valuable nutrients.
While it is currently illegal in Indiana to raise industrial hemp, there are efforts underway in the U.S. Congress to legalize the production of industrial hemp. Starke County farmers learned that they could be on the leading edge of this industry if legalization should occur.
Another opportunity lies with the rapid rise in the popularity of craft beers. Hops are required to make these brews, but current hops supplies are limited. At the Hamlet meeting, Phil Woolery from the local Purdue Extension touched on the possible opportunities to grow alternative crops like hops. He pointed out that Starke County is already home to a small hops operation run by Chris Lawrence, who was in attendance at the meeting.
The SCEDF is continuing to explore ag opportunities for the county. They are partnering with Indiana's Department of Agriculture and Purdue's Center for Regional Development to perform an agriculture cluster analysis, which will help identify next steps for a Starke County ag strategy.
If you are interested in learning more about agricultural opportunities in Starke County, please contact the SCEDF or local Purdue Extension Office.
The Starke County Economic Development Foundation is a not-for-profit local economic development organization (LEDO) providing economic development opportunities on behalf of Starke County, Indiana, the City of Knox, and the Towns of North Judson and Hamlet through the development of industrial parks, rail spurs, greenfield sites, shovel-ready sites, infrastructure and workforce development. For more information regarding the Starke County Economic Development Foundation, visit www.scedf.biz.