SPRINGFIELD – As children head back to school, the summer fair season is wrapping up, but is always ends with our state’s two largest celebrations of agriculture -- the Illinois State Fair in Springfield and its southern Illinois cousin – the DuQuoin State Fair.
Agriculture is the basis of the Illinois economy and it looks like Illinois farmers have the potential to have another good year. Our Illinois agricultural industry is on track for back-to-back quality years after dealing with historic drought in 2012. The easiest way to tell whether or not producers have had a good year, is if tax revenues are up.
One-quarter of Illinois’ economy is based in the agriculture sector and it should be a top priority of the legislature to enact policies that allow the sector to grow. Illinois is the third largest producers of commodities in the United States and we continue to expand our agricultural reach throughout the world.
The 37th Senate District is dominated by grain farms and several livestock operations, but these are threatened by a Chicago-centered policy that doesn’t always take into account the impact of our farmers. The Chicago Board of Trade, transportation hubs, and food processing industries in northeastern Illinois only exist because of hundreds of years of rich agricultural history from downstate.
My oft-mistaken Chicago colleagues want to pass on surcharges, taxes and other fees on our agricultural producers, which drive up the cost of farming. When state legislators or regulators stand in the way of agriculture, you only harm the Illinois economy.
The Illinois Farm Bureau does an excellent job of hosting Chicago and suburban legislators on downstate tours. They offer several educational opportunities throughout the year to get our counterparts “down on the farm,” but sometimes these efforts can only go so far.
When our counterparts lack a true understanding of ag-industry issues, that’s when it becomes problematic. Governor Rod Blagojevich embodied that lack of understanding as he gutted the Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Governor Pat Quinn has tried to do a better job; however, he has the two departments mired in scandal about unqualified hires and facilities that are in shambles.
Illinois needs to truly examine our priorities and that begins with making a serious investment in our state’s agricultural policies. We need to begin by reinvesting in the Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, through local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, the U of I Extension and CFaR programs. This reinvestment will help us spur economic growth and an ability to develop foreign markets for Illinois corn, beans, wheat and livestock. When we keep “ag first,” we keep Illinois strong.