Illinois’ annual celebration of agriculture just ended with the closing of the Illinois State Fair on August 20th. We had some livestock participants and winners in various categories from the 45th District, and I want to thank all the FFA, 4-H, and other livestock exhibitors who took the time to raise, groom, feed, and prepare their animals for the show. I am sure it was a great experience.
Our area was on the receiving end of another distinct honor this year, as the State Fair’s coveted “Butter Cow” features a Stephenson County legacy farmer. The first Butter Cow was unveiled in 1922, and the sculpture has become an annual event that kicks off each year’s fair in Springfield. For 2023, artist Sarah Pratt embraced the theme of “Harvest the Fun” and created a 500-pound butter sculpture of Lorilee Schultz from the Mill-R-Mor Dairy in Orangeville, Illinois milking a cow. Lorilee’s daughter Lucy was depicted in a second, smaller butter sculpture with a calf.
The annual unveiling of the Butter Cow at the State Fair is a respectable nod to the hard work of Illinois’ 1,400 dairy farmers. These people have physically demanding jobs. They must milk cows at least twice a day, feed them three times a day, and provide care around the clock. They are also tasked with birthing calves, and making sure the cows have a safe environment where they can mature and remain healthy. There are no days off for an Illinois dairy farmer.
Many people do not think about all the work that goes into the milk, cheese, ice cream and other dairy products purchased at the store, but we are fortunate in Illinois to be home to some of the nation’s leading dairy producers. Some of these producers are located right here in Northwest Illinois.
In addition to the livestock and dairy farmers that boost our state’s economy, Illinois is also home to tens of thousands of crop farmers who feed Illinois, the nation, and the world. Illinois is the nation’s #1 producer of soybeans and is the #2 producer of corn. All told, agriculture activity, in its many forms, covers 76% of our state’s land mass. According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, our state’s agriculture commodities generate more than $51.1 billion each year. Additionally, our state exports more than $10.6 billion in agricultural goods annually to other countries.
Our state’s agriculture industry is not limited to the growing of crops, meat, and dairy products. Billions in additional economic activity stem from related businesses, like ag machine manufacturing, food processing, and agribusinesses, like apple and pumpkin farms. All strengthen the state and local economies.
In the coming weeks, farmers will begin their fall harvest. Even though farmers work incredibly long hours during this time, almost every farmer I know says this is their favorite time of year because it is the time when they get to reap the benefits of their hard work.
It will not be long until we see the combines in the fields from dawn until dusk. It is also the time of year when large farm equipment will be on our roads. While the big orange triangle signals motorists to slow down, I would encourage people to be respectful of our farmers’ need to move their equipment to and from their fields. Do not assume the driver of a large piece of farm equipment can see you, and if you need to pass them on the road, do so only when it is safe.
When you get slowed down by a farmer on the road this fall, give them a thumbs up or a friendly wave in appreciation of their work. I can guarantee you that every individual who drives past a large piece of farm machinery has gone home to a meal that likely included food made by an Illinois farmer. It is truly a great time of the year and a kind reminder of why we love Illinois and our shared Northwest Illinois Values!