Many say the only constant in life is change. We see this as businesses continually adapt to remain competitive and profitable, and schools respond to economic trends to produce graduates that can succeed at jobs many of us never thought would even exist when we were young. While the rate of change can be dizzying, one thing that will never change is the value and importance of the Illinois farmer.
I was born and raised in Northwest Illinois, home to several of the more than 70,000 farms in this state. My dad was a hog farmer and later a farm manager, and like many others from rural areas of the state, my first job was detasseling corn. This hard work on a farm instilled a solid work ethic for me and those that I worked with while creating a conservative value system at an early age.
Soil scientists claim Illinois’ rich, black dirt is unparalleled for fertility and ideal for growing crops. They say our fertile soil can be traced back to glaciers that covered much of the region more than 12,000 years ago, and that this huge sheet of ice protected the ground beneath it.
In Illinois, farmland covers over 27 million acres of land- about 75% of the state’s landmass. Agriculture is the primary driver of the state’s economy, with the industry as a whole providing over one million jobs for Illinois families. We are the top producer of soybeans, and rank second in corn production. In addition to these crops, Illinois is also a leading producer of oats, hay, fruits, vegetables, cattle, swine, dairy, sheep, and poultry.
Agriculture-related industries like grain processing and meat packing plants, dairy manufacturing, vegetable processing, feed milling, and family-oriented agribusinesses account for just some of the related businesses made possible by Illinois’ robust agriculture and farming system. Marketing of Illinois’ agricultural commodities generates more than $19 billion annually.
As the State Senator for this region, it is my job to take the values and priorities of Northwest Illinois to Springfield, and in this role, I promote and support initiatives that help our farmers and agribusinesses. I also fight back against legislation that could hurt the agriculture industry or threaten people’s livelihoods. It is a role I take very seriously, and my colleagues know I will be relentless in my support of the farmers and agriculture businesses in this part of the state.
I have recently had the privilege of meeting with members of the Farm Bureaus in Ogle and Stephenson Counties to provide legislative updates about bills and to listen to their concerns and suggestions. I will be making the rounds across all counties in the 45th District to have similar conversations, but also encourage those who wish to engage in a conversation outside of these meetings to contact me to discuss issues of importance. I really do want to hear from our farmers, so I am representing you to the best of my ability during policy discussions at the Capitol.
This time of year, in Springfield, we recognize and celebrate National Agriculture Day and Ag Week. On one designated day during Ag Week, the National FFA Organization sends groups of students from across the state to the Capitol to talk with lawmakers about the value of agriculture, and how their FFA chapters are building the next generation of agricultural leaders. I always enjoy these visits, and seeing how excited these students are about their post-high school careers in agriculture.
As we enter the month of April, we will see farmers preparing their fields for this year’s growing season. As they sow and grow, they are not just producing food for Illinoisans’ tables, but for tables across the nation and world. The vital contributions Illinois farmers make toward the global economy cannot be understated. These hard-working men and women literally produce the items we need for survival. How many of us can say our jobs actually sustain life? Thank you, Illinois farmers.