GOOD FARMERS AND BAD FARMERS …

Part of our Illinois Commodity Conference agenda was a discussion on the research Illinois Corn has funded with Illinois Beef, Illinois Pork, Illinois Soybeans, and Illinois Farm Bureau.  This is the research that provides a baseline for us, telling us where consumers are, what they think about farmers, and how we can best reconnect with them.

Knowing some of what we were learning from consumers in focus groups and statistical analysis, we sent our interns out to create this video.

This is what people really think about farmers.  The sad fact is, they don’t know much and what they do know is wrong.  And they don’t have to be from Chicago to have incorrect notions … some of these consumers are living in the number one corn producing county in America!

THANKS AND GIVING: HISTORY

So fun to be guest blogging today at the Corn Corps! I’m in the midst of a month-long series at Prairie Farmer called Thanks and Giving, and when the good folks at Illinois Corn invited me over, I couldn’t resist. Today…giving thanks for our agricultural history.

During the fall of 1998, Mike Wilson sent me out on a photo shoot at an old grain elevator in Atlanta, Illinois. It turned out to be the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator, and it was on the National Register of Historic Places and it had just gotten a fresh coat of barn red paint. It was a photographer’s dream. The photos wound up being my first-ever cover, and Mike even took me to Pontiac to watch it roll off the printing press. And this one here won the top prize in the AAEA photo contest that year. As a fresh-out-of-the-gate ag journalist, I was giddy.

I love this photo in a very large way – large enough to print it on canvas and hang it where everyone who walks in my house will see it. In part because of the red paint and the majestic lines, but also because of the history it holds. I’m a sucker for a little heritage and a good farm history lesson, and the folks at the J.H. Hawes Grain Elevator Museum are some of the best teachers you’ll ever meet. First, you must check out their website. Don’t skip the intro. I always skip the intros, but not this time. Very cool.

Anyway, you can get the full lesson from the website, but in short, the elevator was state of the art when it was built in 1904. It was abandoned in 1976, and ready to be torched for firefighter practice in 1988. Local citizens stepped in, and saved the building.

What I love, though, is how the thing was built in the first place. In the early 1900s, prairie farmers were producing more and more corn each year, as distant grain markets expanded. Greater trade led to the development of a bulk system for inspection, grading and storage in giant bins, instead of individual sacks. All this made storage facilities along rail lines quite necessary. Mr. Hawes simply took a look at the map and noted that Atlanta was the intersection of two major rail lines – Chicago to St. Louis and Peoria to Decatur. And that’s where he put his elevator.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Illinois agriculture, from perspective to opportunity to time. And on the lighter side, we’ve got farm boys and barn kittens and a cold drink. But it’s our history that will sustain us, and that’s worth being thankful for.

Holly Spangler
Prairie Farmer

WINNERS AND LOSERS

No. We’re no longer talking about politicians. We’re talking about us!

The Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield next week to begin the Fall Veto Session. It’s a portion of the legislative process where lawmakers are supposed to act upon actions taken by Governor Quinn regarding proposed changes to law sent to him by the assembly during the Spring Session of this year. In reality, some of that will occur. However, this is also the time when parties in power use their majorities to make additional legislative changes before the next General Assembly is sworn into office in January. It’s the kickoff point for the next two year session of the legislature.

We know where we are now. We’re deeply in debt. The debt is only getting larger. And, the means of reducing that obligation are not looking any brighter than they have been for the past several months.

The economy is not growing at a rate fast enough to fill the financial hole. Yet, huge segments of society are clamoring for more money in order to maintain the status quo. So, who will lawmakers determine puts more money in so they have money to give to groups who take money out? And, how do they close the debt they have already amassed?

Now is the time for every state agency to review their spending programs and make hard decisions regarding what programs could be targeted for reduction or elimination. It’s also the time for every segment of recipient entities to review their operations and determine needs versus wants and be prepared to offer realistic input into the process.

Despite providing a significant portion of the states economy, the agriculture industry is not going to be exempt from the budget ax. So, it’s vital that leaders of all aspects of the agriculture community look within their programs and make those same hard decisions – what could be restructured or reduced and what must remain or be revised to improve the industry and, ultimately, the economy of Illinois.

What lawmakers decide to do with the current mess depends upon several factors, including how confident they are that they can raise taxes after voters spoke loud and clear they do not want to pay more until spending is brought under control. Therein lays the problem!

As lawmakers begin the next session I have no doubts there will be cuts in numerous agencies and their programs. I also have no doubt there will eventually be attempts to increase revenues.

In other words – be prepared for activity concerning our industry!

Tom Madsen
GovPlus Consulting

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NOVEMBER 2ND: NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED
WHAT DOES NOVEMBER 2ND MEAN FOR IL AGRICULTURE?
HOW ABOUT SOME POSITIVE PR?

U.S. MILITARY AND U.S. (IL) AGRICULTURE

Veterans Day is upon us once again and this is a time for us all to think about those that have and are serving our country and those that have given their lives so that we can continue to live the American dream. This may be only one day that many honor those that have or are serving our country, but it shouldn’t be just one day.

There are thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen putting their lives at stake to ensure our freedoms and they should be thanked every day and in every one of our prayers. They spend days, months, and years of their lives away from their families and yes this is their choice, but that is a sacrifice in itself that many take for granted. Military service men and women don’t serve in the military because of the great pay, great benefits or easy lifestyle. It’s quite the contrary. Those that serve in the military, from my experience, have never considered those as factors in their decision to join or remain in the military. Believing in the American way of life and the American dream, setting the example for all to follow, and taking pride for doing something that many in this country would never consider doing are ideals that I know of why many join the service. Those in the military have extremely strong values, such as Honor, Courage, and Commitment. For us in the U.S. Navy these are not just words, but they are a way of life and are reflected in everything we do. Each of the branches of the service have their own values, but they are all similar and in the end, the commonality is a dedication to duty and country.

Some may ask what if any connection there is between the U.S. military and U.S. agriculture. I not only served in the U.S. Navy, but I also come from an agricultural background. Much like those in the Navy, those in my farm community also had strong values and a strong faith. The same values that are extolled in the Navy are very much a part of that farm life I grew up on. Perhaps that is why you see so many young farm men and women join the military. It is comforting to belong to a team and a culture that share your same values and beliefs.

Whether a farmer or a military service member, you are committed to serving your country. Providing the food and feed supply that keeps the nation independent of basic food/feed imports adds to our national security issues. Many nations around the world import a majority of the food they consume. While in the U.S. we do import some food/feed ingredients, overall though, we are a food exporting nation and our producers are increasing trying to meet the global food and feed needs. Farmers and the U.S. military are the backbone of American national security. Having both of these industries, agriculture and defense, as a strong part of our economy puts the U.S. at a very strong strategic advantage over many countries around the world.

The U.S. farmer and service member have a partnership that they may not be aware of, but it is one that is vital to the United States’ leadership role around the world. I don’t expect the values or beliefs of either to change and as more nations need “nation building” assistance both the U.S. farmer will be there to feed that nation’s people and to educate them on how to produce their own food, but the U.S. service men and women will be there to protect them and ensure that they have the same opportunity to grow and live a life free from threats and oppression. So on this Thursday and any day of the year, if you see a farmer or a service member thank them for what they are doing to make this country and you as a citizen safe and secure and also thank them for their sacrifices. It is the least we can do.

Craig A. Ratajczyk
CEO Illinois Soybean Association
(CDR USN)

You can also visit Craig on the ISA Facebook page.

FEDERAL FUNDING FOR BLENDER PUMPS – NOT YET

On October 21, 2010 Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made an exciting announcement that USDA will support the installation of up to 10,000 blender pumps in the next five years throughout the U.S. The funds for the program according to the Secretary already exist within USDA.

Based on this announcement the ethanol producers, corn growers and petroleum marketers began talking on how to take advantage of this great opportunity. The Illinois Corn Marketing Board already has a cooperative program in place with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and the American Lung Association of Illinois to install E-85 stations and blender pumps. Funding provided by both DCEO and ICMB allow a station to receive up to $20,000 if they install a blender pump system. Blender pumps cost between $25,000 and $30,000. The E-85 program allows grants up to $30,000 for the installation of E-85 underground storage tanks and dispensers.

Funds are tight so the additional funds from USDA would fit right into the existing program. In fact several petroleum marketers have in the last two weeks expressed interest in this new program.

Alas, announcements are easy to make but the real work begins after the press releases. In follow-up discussions with USDA and others it became quite clear that the surplus funds have not been identified. The plan is for the funding to go through Rural Development (which is a very good idea) but the current programs would have to be changed to allow funds to be used specifically for blender pumps. One obvious program is the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) which has been identified as a possible vehicle. Unfortunately the guidelines will have to be changed and the solicitations will not be issued until next spring. It is also possible the program will have to be changed legislatively for blender pumps to be allowed.

USDOE with their billions are also in the discussions. They of course are not as excited about funding blender pumps and E-85 infrastructure as USDA. USDOE has significantly reduced their support for ethanol research and E-85 in the last two years. Unspent stimulus funds that go to the states for energy programs were originally identified as an option for funding blender pumps. In Illinois, like many other states, these funds have been obligated already.

We will continue working with USDA, Rural Development as well as USDOE to identify funding opportunities for blender pumps. It just will not happen next week.

The good news is, the Rural Development Director of Illinois and her staff are very supportive of trying to identify the funding in USDA and they are working with ICMB, the American Lung Association and DCEO to develop a program for the petroleum marketers and ethanol industry in Illinois.

In the world of corn-based ethanol, we’re always looking for a silver lining.

Dave Loos
Ethanol Guru

FRIDAY FARM PHOTO

Illinois Corn recognized that we will likely see a shift in the Congressmen that represented us, but no one predicted quite this large of a shift! Here are the new faces we look forward to working with in January!

Congratulations to Joe Walsh, Robert Dold, Randy Hultgren, Adam Kinzinger, Bobby Schilling, & Mark Kirk on their new offices and thank you to Cong Bean, Foster, Halvorson, & Hare for your service.

NOVEMBER 2ND: NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED

Wow! What happened in that last election (held Tuesday, November 2, 2010 if you have forgotten already)?

Already, much has been written, analysis made, and perhaps even plans formulated about the effect of the national elections. Folks are still trying to figure out how this affects Illinois, especially on the myriad problems and issues facing our new governor (perhaps the old governor) and the newly elected state legislature.

The unusual thing about the Illinois election in terms of the legislature is that really, not much changed. Before the election, Democrats held supermajorities in each chamber. The Illinois House Democratic majority was 70 Democrats to 48 Republicans. After the election, going into the 2011 session, it will be 64-54. Republicans actually won 7 seats formally held by Democrats but lost a north suburban Chicago seat held by a Republican legislator who retired. The net effect is a gain of six seats.
In the Illinois Senate elections, Republicans gained two seats formally held by Democrats. Prior to the election, the Democratic supermajority was 37-22. The majority in the 2011 session will now be 35-24.

Many folks wonder why state elections did not mirror the national trend this year. One of the reasons relates to the redistricting process that each state goes through every ten years following the completion of the national census. States are given the new population data and go through the process of drawing new legislative and congressional district maps that rebalance the population in each district, to essentially provide that the districts have the same number of people in them that a particular officeholder will represent. A significant part of that redistricting planning relates to identifying and consolidating political party affiliation to provide greater opportunity for success by the dominant party in the district.

The legislative maps drawn in 2001 reflected the interests of the dominant political party at that time (Democratic) and reflect those interests in 2010 as well. Legislative district elections tend to focus more on local and state political issues and interests (like tax policies, social service issues, education and the like). Since they are also smaller population political subdivisions, they add credence to the notion that “all politics are local” more so than larger political subdivisions like congressional districts. In comparison, congressional elections (U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats) reflect substantially more on those national policy issues, which oftentimes are separated in the voter’s mind from the state and local political scene.

The Illinois legislature will have redistricting on it’s “must do” list in the 2011 legislative session. Approval of a new plan for re-apportioning legislative and congressional district maps requires only a simple majority vote of the Illinois Senate and Illinois House, and approval by the Governor. However, if the General Assembly cannot agree upon a plan, a Redistrictricting Commission is established under the Illinois Constitution. As witnessed in the November 2010 election results, this decision, made every ten years, has a significant impact over the next ten years that it will be in effect, in terms of elections and ultimately, how the major issues facing the state will be considered, and by those persons elected within that framework.
Rich Clemmons

WHAT DOES NOVEMBER 2 MEAN FOR ILLINOIS AGRICULTURE?

In the wake of a long night waiting up to see the results of the elections (and still waiting to see the outcome of the Gubernatorial race) I’d like to take a moment to reflect on what the outcomes, or proposed outcomes, mean for agriculture. If we assume Governor Quinn wins, we already know he supports an income tax increase and I have to assume that it will be a priority to help resolve our budget mess. The problem with this plan of attack is that it only solves half the annual shortfall at most and does nothing to address our State’s huge backlog of past bills yet to be paid. That means either greater revenue increases or budget cuts, neither of which will be easy.
Furthermore, if Governor Quinn decides to only represent the Chicago area, ag and business are in for a rough four years as additional revenue and/or cuts will not be made over a broad base. Long-term, this continues to put the Illinois economy in a tailspin and business leaves the state.

Farmers can’t move the land so our businesses can’t leave the state! Our choice is to be proactive early on so that the “pain” is shared as equitably as possible and our state’s economy can grow. If not, the result will be that our state will continue its economic decline.

illinois election congressional districtsMoving on to the federal races, I was blown away by the magnitude of the Republican wave. We had four Congressional seats “flip” from Democrat to Republican: Halvorson, Foster, Hare and Bean. I had expected only one or two.

What does this mean? First of all I hope that the zealousness of USEPA on regulations slows down and in some cases stop. Although it was not an election issue, I believe that USEPA is not well-liked in the rural areas for the agenda they have been trying to move forward. The danger for agriculture though is to assume that all of this goes away. Some will slow down, some will be put on the shelf, but some will continue. As an example, nutrient regulation will continue because the movement of nutrient regulation is based on the Clean Water Act that all states were to implement and USEPA was to enforce back in 2000. There’s no getting away from this one.

The other major effect to agriculture is in the area of funding. Nearly everyone elected last night in either the US House or the US Senate will want to demonstrate to the electorate they did something about the deficit when they are up for re-election. This will be a priority. That means that Farm Bill, business tax credits, ethanol tax credits, research, and any other spending by the Federal Government will be under the microscope. This is not a bad thing, but if we expect our elected officials to reduce the federal deficit, ag must be prepared that some of our own programs will be part of the solution.

All in all, it was a fun election night that offers a host of new challenges and opportunities for ag. We have four new US Congressman and a new US Senator that know very little about ag issues and I look forward to the dialogue as we teach them what Illinois’ number one industry is all about.

Rodney M Weinzierl
ICGA Executive Director

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