Knox County is now the recipient of a federal grant aimed at better leveraging its agricultural assets.

The Indiana Economic Development Association Foundation this week announced that the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded a $100,097 grant to assist four regions in Indiana in creating a strategy to “maximize their respective agricultural industries,” according to a press release.

The grant will fund the implementation of the Rural Economic Development Model, a first-of-its-kind process developed in Indiana to assist rural communities in creating new economic development opportunities for Hoosier farmers.

“Providing access to, and attraction of, ag technology innovations to our region is critical for our progressive agricultural producers,” said Drew Garretson, director of digital experience at Ceres Solutions and chair of the Pantheon’s Ag-Tech Committee.

“Agriculture has a large impact on our local rural economies, and we are committed to helping our local agricultural community remain vibrant and relevant.”

The grant will enable 14 counties in Southwest Central Indiana — Crawford, Daviess, Dubois, Greene, Harrison, Jackson, Knox, Martin, Lawrence, Pike, Spencer, Perry, Orange, and Washington — to “examine the agricultural output in their regions to identify opportunities for creating new markets, applications, or processing facilities that can enhance the local value of the agricultural output,” according to a press release.

Chris Pfaff, CEO of Knox County Indiana Economic Development, said the model being implemented here will essentially allow for the collection of data across a wide swath of ag-related practices.

The intent, he said, “is for us to study a cluster analysis of what our agricultural market resources are.”

“The project includes collecting a lot of data intended to inform us, as a county and as a region, where opportunity may lie for future business development.”

The Rural Economic Development Model enables counties and regions to examine the agricultural output unique to their locale then engages a local planning team composed of local economic development officials, farmers, and other local stakeholders to create and implement a plan to “leverage local agricultural outputs, expand existing agribusinesses and attract new economic opportunities,” the press release states.

As an example, Pfaff said, with Knox County being No. 1 in the state for vegetable production, this model will take “a deeper look” at that market from a buying and distribution standpoint.

“Are there opportunities we’re overlooking that we could use, maybe to attract another food processor?” he theorized. “We have a lot of leftover melons in Knox County that don’t end up being distributed, but maybe there is a food processor that could move into our region and take advantage of that.

“If you’re canning fruit, the melon doesn’t have to look good enough to sit on a shelf. So maybe that’s what this data will tell us. Maybe as a result we’ll be able to attract additional companies to the area who are good for producers and good for us in terms of capital investment and job creation opportunities.”

This Rural Economic Development data analysis model was created as a collaboration between the Indiana Economic Development Association, the Indiana State Department of Agriculture and the Purdue Center for Regional Development with support from the Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs.

The 24-month process will be completed in the Summer of 2023.
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