Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi (left) and Purdue agricultural economists Larry DeBoer (center) and Chris Hurt help Hoosiers understand important issues.
Indiana State Climatologist Dev Niyogi (left) and Purdue agricultural economists Larry DeBoer (center) and Chris Hurt help Hoosiers understand important issues.

The Forecasters

Helping Indiana residents understand changes in public policy, comoodity markets and climate
to make informed decisions

Larry DeBoer says he is “passionate about dispassionate analysis” of government policy and translating that policy for the people who need to understand it most.

Since joining the Purdue University faculty nearly 29 years ago, this agricultural economist has spent many of his days studying policy changes and explaining exactly what they could mean for Indiana state government, school districts, and cities and towns. DeBoer has worked on tax and finance issues for the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Services Agency since 1988, and he contributes to annual state revenue forecasts.

“This fits perfectly with Purdue Extension because I make no recommendations or endorsements. I just want to get answers about what might happen when policy changes are made,” DeBoer says.

One example is DeBoer’s examination of the financial impacts of Indiana’s property tax caps—a constitutional amendment voters passed in 2010 that limited property tax bills to 1-3 percent of gross assessed value, depending on the type of property.

“The new tax caps are a simple idea that really have limited property tax bills, but they have more complex consequences. The tax bills of homeowners are the revenue for all local governments,” he says. By capping property taxes, the new policy also limited the amount of income available for local governments and school corporations.

DeBoer assessed and interpreted a number of scenarios to get a better understanding of what those tax caps would mean for communities, including tax cuts and the loss of public services from reduced tax revenue. He then presented his findings at public workshops and worked individually with local government officials—something Highland clerk-treasurer Michael Griffin appreciates.

Griffin marvels at the depth of DeBoer’s knowledge of such complex matters and his ability to explain the issues in easily understandable ways. “I have a very high regard for his gift of distilling complex matters into very accessible information for audiences from public officials to interested citizens,” he says.

Informed Decision-Making

Chris Hurt also is a Purdue Extension agricultural economist, but that’s where he and DeBoer differ. Hurt, who focuses on commodities markets and marketing, works mainly with Indiana farmers, landowners, farm-input suppliers, and business managers at grain elevators, packers and ethanol plants.

And while he can’t predict the future, Hurt says he can think about the variables that could affect incomes and help others do the same. “The decisions farmers and agribusiness professionals make now could affect their businesses 20 years in the future,” he says. “From the smallest farm to the biggest agribusiness, we want to help them make sound decisions.”

Hurt also helps non-farm citizens understand how commodity market changes affect consumer food costs and government officials understand consequences of agricultural policy changes.

“We have to help people understand that an increase in corn prices doesn’t automatically turn into giant increases in the cost of a steak,” he says. “It’s also important that our policymakers understand the issues and analyze the decisions they make.”

Drought on Everyone’s Radar

A vast majority of decisions Indiana farmers and agribusiness professionals have to make are closely related to the state’s climate. Climate affects every single Indiana resident, state climatologist Dev Niyogi well knows.

Niyogi works in the Indiana State Climate Office based at Purdue. The office doesn’t forecast daily weather, but collects and analyzes historical data to learn more about Indiana’s climate patterns.

Niyogi and colleagues report their findings to the public through workshops, school education programs and collaborations with other agencies. “I get to learn more every day and translate it for people around the state,” he says.

Niyogi’s research and education roles were thrust into high gear in 2012 as Indiana suffered one of the worst droughts in state history. During that time, he worked with farmers, policymakers, Extension professionals and the media to provide a better understanding of the impact of the drought and to forecast how long it might last.

“Drought has been the million-dollar issue this year, and it’s not just a lack of rainfall. Indiana is a highly weather-sensitive state, and everything in the last year has been unusual,” he says. “Getting the drought status right and coordinating with other agencies has been essential.”

Though the forecasters work in different areas, they stand on common ground: their analysis of complex issues is rivaled only by their ability to help citizens interpret and understand the subjects as well.

Additional Resources

Indiana Local Government Information

DeBoer: Farmland property taxes to continue rising into 2015 

Purdue Profiles: Dev Niyogi​