Gina L. Sheets, Director of Economic Development for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) was the featured speaker at the recent League of Women Voters public meeting on agriculture held in the Exhibit Hall of Montgomery County 4-H Fairgrounds.

Sheets was formerly the Economic Development Director and CEO of the Clinton County Chamber of Commerce, Director of the Frankfort Urban Enterprise Association and Director of the Clinton County Economic Advancement Foundation. This multiple role position served the citizens of Clinton County with a joint partnership between public and private dollars.

In her role with ISDA, Sheets works with small and large sized clients in the fields of renewable energy initiatives, hardwoods, livestock, diversified markets, and international trade.

Sheets noted that the Indiana State Department of Agriculture was just created seven years ago in the Governor Daniel's administration. Prior to that, activities of the Department fell under other state agencies.

The vision of the ISDA states "Indiana agriculture will be a global leader in innovation and commercialization for food, fuel and fiber production."

ISDA resources are devoted to nine initiatives under three strategies:

* Advocacy (Outreach, Regulatory Coordination and Policy Development Initiatives) serving as an advocate for Indiana agriculture at the local, state and federal levels.

* Environmental Stewardship: Enhance the stewardship of natural resources on agricultural land in a manner that creates value-added opportunity for producers and assists agriculture stakeholders with current and future regulatory challenges.

* Economic Opportunity (Hardwoods, Entrepreneurship, Livestock, International Trade and Bioenergy Initiatives): Define and nurture economic opportunity, including technology development, in the food, fuel and fiber sectors.

The ISDA works with elected officials on the local, state and federal level to benefit all Hoosiers involved in the agriculture industry. The Department's function is to educate and serve those who have the power to improve the direction of the agriculture industry in Indiana. The Department works with state agencies, rural communities, consumers, producers, and agricultural organizations to ensure Indiana has laws and regulations that are based in science and do not impede economic development in agriculture.

The department serves as regulatory ombudsman by assisting agricultural businesses with the permit process required to conduct business in Indiana.

Bioenergy is making a significant contribution to the Hoosier economy with production in ethanol and its byproducts worth $1.3 billion at current prices. Indiana has 13 completed ethanol plants (two are presently idle). Combined production of the plants exceeds 1.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually and uses approximately 431 million bushels of corn.

ISDA continues to increase Indiana's competitiveness in hardwood industry through trade missions and consumer awareness both nationally and internationally, securing existing hardwoods manufacturing jobs and local demand for the state's high-quality timber.

Farmers Markets are thriving in Indiana and ISDA encourages consumers to buy local whenever possible. ISDA, in partnership with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, has created the Indiana Agritourism and Farmers' Market Online Directory to help Hoosiers and visitors find agritourism destinations and locally-grown food across the state.

In 2010, the Director of Leadership Programs of Future Farmers of American (FFA) and Indiana Young Farmers Association was moved under ISDA to allow for more connection with ISDA's agriculture resources and advocacy.

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the LWV, visit the website or send a message to LWV, PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.