SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Messages of hope for the future mixed
with concerns about the financial shape of the state as young people,
legislators and members of ag commodity groups came together for the Illinois
Agricultural Legislative Day.
Hundreds of FFA members gathered at the state Capitol to
continue an annual tradition in which they fill baskets and boxes with food and
other goods taken from farms across the state and then deliver them to
“You are going to face more challenges than those of us who
have been on this planet for a lot of years,” said state Rep. Jim Sacia,
R-Pecatonica, a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “The changes are
facing you, young folks. You’re going to face a very difficult agriculture
community than what I and many in this room did.”
Sacia railed against environmental activists whom he said
are responsible for halting the establishment of a large dairy farm in his
northeastern Illinois district. It is particularly egregious, he said, because
the district has lost 11,000 dairy cows in the past 20 years.
A plan by a California ag entrepreneur to start up a
5,000-cow dairy in the region was thwarted by state regulations and
environmentalists using the courts to effect constant delays, according to
Sacia. Eventually, the plan was abandoned and the dairy was established in
“He did everything right. He followed all the environmental
regulations. He went through all the proper procedures,” Sacia said.
“He had spent over $2 million developing his property. It
would have brought hundreds of new jobs to northwestern Illinois.
“There was challenge after challenge in the courts.
Everything he tried to do, they threw a roadblock. For us in agriculture, we
have to speak up. The gentleman reached a point where he just packed his tent
and left the state of Illinois.”
Such experiences require that those in agriculture fight for
the future of the industry, according to Sacia.
“Typically, we’re a quiet group,” he said. “But we cannot
let this kind of thing happen.”
Illinois Farm Bureau President Phil Nelson decried Illinois’
financial state while holding hope that legislators will work together to help
dig out of the mess. He noted that one speaker at a recent ag summit in Decatur
wondered aloud how Abraham Lincoln would react to the condition of the
“That phrase caught my attention,” he said. “What would
Lincoln think about $7.5 billion in unpaid bills? You look at unfunded pension
liability nearing $100 billion.
“I would think he would look at that and say there’s got to
be a way forward.”
Illinois Director of Agriculture Bob Flider praised teamwork
between ag leaders and politicians in dealing with challenges facing the state
last year. A record drought devastated crops in many fields and dramatically
lowered river levels.
“Gov. (Pat) Quinn declared all 102 counties disaster area,”
Flider said. “More important is what we did after that. We worked with (the
Federal Drug Administration) to certify corn that had aflatoxin could be blended
effectively and used. That helped us ensure that because of the lower
productivity we could make our corn go further.
“There were a number of issues where the community came
together. Gov. Quinn and our congressional delegation worked with the White
House to expedite the Corps of Engineers’ schedule. There are so many examples
of how we’re working together. We recognize that agriculture is our No. 1
Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon praised a program in which farmers
markets received assistance through a federal grant for the purchase of machines
used for accepting electronic payments.
“Now there are more farmers markets across the state that
have these machines where you can use your credit, debit or Link card to get
fresh local food,” she said.
“That’s more money staying in Illinois, more Illinoisans
eating healthy food. And that’s all paid for by the federal government, so we
really like that.”
Among other speakers was veteran racecar driver Kenny
Wallace, who drives for American Ethanol, a joint venture between the National
Corn Growers Association and Growth Energy. Quinn also briefly addressed
hundreds of FFA students gathered at the Capitol.