Indianapolis, January 18, 2018 - After over 43 years of public service, USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service State Conservationist Jane Hardisty has retired leaving big shoes to fill.
In a male-dominated field, Hardisty began her career as the state’s first female soil conservationist in 1974. At that time, no one could have guessed that this farm girl from Hancock County and new Ball State University graduate was starting a lifelong career dedicated to help farmers and other private landowners protect the natural resources of our state. Her NRCS career led to many more first-female positions—district conservationist, resource conservation and development coordinator, resource conservationist, area conservationist, assistant state conservationist, and then, ultimately as the first female state conservationist in both Michigan and Indiana. This pioneering conservationist has led the way and inspired many young women along the way. Before retirement, Hardisty held the distinction of the longest serving state conservationist in the country, but she is quick to add that the title does not mean she was the oldest.
Leading hundreds of employees and managing a budget that brought hundreds of millions of dollars into Indiana for private land conservation over the past 17 years, Jane has made her time as state conservationist count. Her first major accomplishment was to develop a strategic plan that took into account a future of uncertain budgets and staffing levels. In 2002 Hardisty took a bold step into unchartered territory to reorganize and streamline workload by shifting responsibility for designing and implementing conservation practices from field office staff to technical teams of specialists. The process has taken some adjustments and tweaking, but benefits have paid off in terms of customer service, quality of work, morale and efficiency.
In 2010, Jane was asked to spearhead a team of the agency’s top soil scientists, agronomists, communicators and other specialists to bring about a renewed recognition of soil as a living and life-giving natural resource that must be cared for. That effort exploded as more and more farmers, agricultural businesses and conservation groups began to tout the many benefits of soil health management systems. It’s no surprise that this simple yet profound change in philosophy continues to ripple across the country and beyond as more and more farmers are unlocking the secrets in the soil. What is surprising is that the focus on soil health, has led to a reinvigoration of conservation planning by NRCS and its conservation partners who provide direct assistance to private landowners.
And though national efforts are good, Hardisty recognized that real, lasting change happens locally which was why she was a chief instigator and supporter of the state’s soil health endeavor, the Indiana Conservation Cropping System Initiative. This collaboration of partners has made Indiana the national leader in soil health and has successfully informed and educated thousands of farmers, conservationists and agri-business staff over the past few years.
Because of her expertise in policy development and implementation, Hardisty was sought after to serve on special assignments and advisory councils that had nation-wide impacts. As Acting NRCS Deputy Chief for Management she led the agency’s administrative staff through a post audit process and later, as Acting Associate Chief for Operations she set into motion the streamlining and reorganization of administrative functions across the country. Jane was one of a handful federal employees selected to attend the White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation.
Hardisty’s passion for partnerships and especially the close working relationship NRCS shares with soil and water conservation districts resulted in the investment of significant amount of energy to ensure Indiana’s Conservation Partnership stayed connected and focused. Many attribute her leadership as a key factor in that the ICP is recognized a national leader and role model for its effective and collaborative efforts to work together and seamlessly deliver state of the art and direct technical assistance to private landowners.
Hardisty received numerous awards throughout her career including the Ball State Natural Resources and Environmental Management Alumni Award of Achievement in 2000, the Ball State Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006, the Ball State Distinction in Natural Resources Conservation Indiana Women of Achievement Award, and most recently the 2017 Purdue Women in Agriculture Leadership Award, 2017 Soil and Water Conservation Society Outstanding Service Award and 2017 Indiana Farm Bureau President’s Award.
A remarkable career and even more remarkable woman, Hardisty will has left her mark on the landscape and in our hearts. Indiana will be forever indebted to Jane Hardisty for her vision, passion and life-long commitment to assure the future of our natural resources for generations to come.