PAXTON, Ill. — Ford County is the youngster among the state’s 102 counties and produces both crops and end-products for global use within its boot-shaped boundaries.

Established in 1859, Ford was the last of Illinois’ 102 counties after being carved from part of Vermilion County, but quickly became a major agricultural player with the arrival of the railroad.

The market value of agricultural products sold within the county increased 77 percent from $82.376 million in 2002 to $145.87 million five years later, a statewide trend driven by commodity prices.

Of those 2007 sales, $128.92 million was from crops and the remainder from livestock, including $12.4 million in swine sales and more than $4 million in cattle.

The total commodity sales average per farm was $278,379 in 2007, up 79 percent from $155,426 in 2002.

Ford County had 530 farms in 2002 and 524 in 2007. The latest census data is not finalized.

Farmland covered 286,069 acres in 2002 and dropped 5 percent to 270,720 in 2007, reducing the average farm size from 540 acres to 517.

Beyond The Farm

But the story of Ford County goes beyond corn, soybeans and livestock.

David Treece, Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau manager, said the county features diverse agriculture-related businesses, and its farmers are conservation conscious. The county’s Soil and Water Conservation District was the 13th to be organized in the state that eventually grew to 97 districts.

He said the diversity ranges from a family that operates Select Exotics, a Savannah cat-breeding business, in the north end of the county at Cabery to a pair of large corn- and soybean-processing companies in Gibson City.

Treece provided some examples of where agriculture is bolstering the local economy.

The DuPont Nutrition and Health Gibson City plant purchases more than $170 million of soybeans from area farmers annually and produces soybean end-products ranging from meal to oil and protein flour. The plant operates two distribution centers in Gibson City.

One Earth Energy in Gibson City uses about 39 million bushels of corn annually to meet its capacity production of 100 million gallons of ethanol and produces 320,000 tons of distillers’ dried grain with solubles, as well as 2 million pounds of corn oil from locally-grown corn.

The Precision Soya facility in Piper City partners with seed companies and growers to produce seed and Identity Preserved products using the latest technologies and innovations.

Soybeans, corn and wheat seeds, as well as food-grade Identity Preserved products, can be produced and conditioned at Precision Soya and provide a range of maturities and geographies.

Specialty Grains Inc. in Gibson City produces and delivers specialty crops, particularly non-GMO corn and soybeans, and works with clients in overseas markets to provide specialty grains.

The processing and warehouse facility at Gibson City provides the latest in grain-processing technology. The facility includes temperature- and humidity-controlled storage and provides an ideal climate to maintain the quality of seed and grain for food-grade purposes.

Specialty Grains recently acquired a new property dedicated solely to the transloading of corn and soybeans for overseas delivery. As an established partner for trading companies and processors in Japan, Korea, Mexico, Spain, Belgium and other European and Asian markets, Specialty Grains has become a renowned supplier of the high-quality corn and soybeans on a world market scale.

Producer And Seller

Central Lean in Paxton is operated by a group of area livestock producers that market their products through their store. The store carries all of Central Lean’s products — both fresh and frozen — along with products by Kilgus Dairy, as well as some locally-produced pork products and Amish goods.

Several other producers market their products from their farm. Examples include Miller Farms and Bauer Crops and Cattle, both near Melvin.

The Bauer family raises and markets beef, poultry and vegetables and sells those products via on-farm, farmers markets and wholesale.

Miller Farms, a sixth-generation family farm, offers pork products ranging from chops to ham and also sells half and whole hogs for the freezer.

Wind farms also became part of the Ford County landscape when Pioneer Trails went online in 2012.

O.ON Climate Renewables constructed 94 turbines stretching across the landscape in Ford and Iroquois counties. The project encompasses more than 12,000 acres.

The 1.6-megawatt turbines provide more than 150 megawatts of power — enough to provide power to more than 45,000 households in Illinois using North American-made turbines, blades and towers.