(Indianapolis, IN) - It’s sort of a homecoming for Bruce Kettler, who’s going from Indiana’s top dog in agriculture to a sector of the farming industry he grew up on. Kettler, the Director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, will be leaving the post nearly five years after being named to the position by Governor Eric Holcomb. His last day on the job is January 6.
Kettler is taking over as CEO and President of the Agribusiness Council of Indiana. The Indianapolis-based group is a voice at the statehouse for businesses serving farmers in areas like grain, feed, seed, plant food, and fertilizer. ACI is also involved in promoting agriculture and providing information about industry trends and issues.
Kettler, 59, said his father in west central Ohio was involved in the retail side of agriculture for over 30 years, working specifically for fertilizer and crop protection businesses. He learned a few things from his father and developed a liking for agriculture before leaving to study agronomy and ag business at Ohio State University.
Kettler sort of became homesick when he answered the knocking on his door.
“There’s a piece of me that says this is an opportunity to get back to a sector that my father was very involved in,” he said.
Kettler said he’s also very familiar with the commercial end of the industry and felt he has something to offer. He pointed out that not only does ISDA work to assist farmers with crop production and land conservation but also gets involved in matters like helping businesses serving agriculture and rural communities with job creation.
Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch, who serves as Indiana’s Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, called Kettler a strong voice for farmers and the industry.
“His leadership and stewardship have been invaluable and I wish him well as he transitions back into the private sector,” she said.
Governor Eric Holcomb credited Kettler for elevating agribusiness development in the state through innovation and focus on the future.
“His leadership has set the agriculture ecosystem up for long-term success,” he said.
Kettler began his professional career at Dow Agrosciences where he worked in sales, marketing, finance management, and other areas like advertising and public relations. He was director of public relations for Beck’s Hybrids when contacted about the governor’s interest in him becoming the ISDA director.
Kettler did not grow up on a farm, but his parents were raised on small milk-producing operations. His love for the industry showed from the interest he showed in his father’s line of work and his membership with 4H and Future Farmers of America. Kessler said his heart for agriculture was cemented when he began working at a nearby dairy farm while in junior high school. He worked there for five years and became a state officer and national officer with FFA in high school. Kessler said his experience with FFA opened his eyes to many career possibilities related to agriculture he never knew existed.
Reaching the top was not something that ever really crossed his mind until receiving a phone call from Crouch asking if he would accept the governor’s request to be ISDA director.
Kessler said he’s proud of the work performed on his watch in areas like dairy, water quality, and cover crops. Cover crops are now planted on 1.5 million acres in the state and together rank third in production behind only corn and soybeans. Highest on his list of achievements, perhaps, was successfully working through the challenges never experienced before during the pandemic. The difficulties ranged from pork farmers facing processing plant shutdowns because of COVID-19 infection to working with other agencies and stakeholders on sharing information and decision-making.
“We just didn’t know what was going to happen and how to react. It was rapidly changing but the industry came together and we played a part in working with those stakeholders to do that,” he said.
He also spoke highly about sharing with people from other countries what’s practiced here in agriculture.
Kettler said his time as ISDA director will always hold a “special place in my professional career. Serving the farmers, businesses and citizens of Indiana has been an honor that I could not have imagined even a few years ago.”