BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — As the corn production king of Illinois, it’s only fitting that McLean County also is the home of several leading statewide agricultural organizations.

The county hosts the offices of the Illinois Farm Bureau, Growmark, Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association.

It also is the home of Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University.

How big is corn in the county?

McLean County’s corn production record was set in 2007 with a yield average of 189 bushels per acre and a total of more than 64.07 million bushels produced on 339,000 harvested acres.

The 10-year average is 169 bushels per acre on 309,170 harvested acres for a total production of 52.338 million bushels.

Soybeans also are big in the county with the largest area in the state.

McLean County’s top year for soybean production of nearly 14.6 million bushels from 286,200 harvested acres was in 2004, and the top-yielding year was 2007 at 54 bushels per acre.

The 10-year average for soybeans is 48.6 bushels per acre, 267,060 harvested acres and total production of more than 12.953 million bushels.

Corn acreage hasn’t changed much in McLean County over the past eight decades. Harvested corn acres were 325,000 in 1930. The county had 8,500 soybean acres in 1930, while oats were ranked second behind corn in acreage with 172,000.

There were 4,060 farms in McLean County in 1930 with an average size of 177 acres. Today there are about 1,442 farms with an average of 477 acres.

There are 992 full-time farmers and 451 part-time farmers in the county.

In 1930, McLean County had 3,649 milk cows, 383 beef cows, 2,655 hogs, 601 sheep, and 3,834 poultry. The most recent census indicated the county had 58,614 hogs, 21,685 cattle, 1,594 poultry and 1,374 sheep.

Agricultural Center

However, beyond the numbers, the county also features other gems large and small.

“Corn and soybean are our king and queen around here in the county, but we do have some niche markets,” said Don Meyer, Illinois State University lecturer and longtime county Extension director.

“We’re seeing a growing farmers’ market interest. We’re not nearly at the level of some other areas, but we’re growing interest in some of the niche farmers. Some of the smaller farms are gearing up to supply that niche market for farmers’ markets.

“We have a couple of organic farmers out here who have been committed for a long time and are also carving out their niche in the industry.”

In addition, there are some farmers in the county who are focusing on the non-genetically modified organism crops.

“We have a few farmers that have on-farm storage that are able to cater to the niche markets of the non-GMOs,” Meyer said.

He said hosting the home office for Growmark and Illinois Farm Bureau has played a vital part in agribusiness.

“We very much enjoy the fact that we have those folks right here in our midst and help to strengthen the quality the agricultural understanding of McLean County,” he said.

“We don’t have a lot of horseradish or pumpkins or some of the things we see in other counties, but being the corporate home of Farm Bureau and Growmark is big for us and the whole agribusiness sector.”

Transportation Hub

Transportation accessibility has played a key role in the agricultural growth of the county in Illinois’ midsection.

“We’re fortunate to have great rail connections. A lot of our grain is transported either to Decatur or to markets in the Southwest or Southeast, and a lot of our grain elevators have geared up for that,” Meyer said.

“It’s also a reasonable amount of drive-time to the river at Peoria and Pekin, so that has sort of led us toward that whole massive commodity production area.”

Three interstates intersect at Bloomington-Normal, providing easy access for trucking.

The county also is the home of a large number of farm managers.

“We are kind of the hub for a lot of farms that are managed professionally in the state and the Midwest, and a number of banks initially as well as private farm management firms are located in McLean County,” Meyer said.

“They’re managing more land than just what is located in the county. They’re geographically centered here and travel to other states to manage farmland for absentee owners.”

Advance Trading, a commodity brokerage firm, also is based in Bloomington.

“A lot of elevators statewide are networked with Advance Trading,” Meyer said.

McLean County is not only known for its crop production, but also its electricity production.

Twin Groves Wind Farm was the largest utility-scale wind farm east of the Mississippi River when it was completed in 2008.

The wind farm near the villages of Arrowsmith, Saybrook and Ellsworth consists of 240 operating wind turbines that stand 270 feet tall and have three 85-foot long blades.

The towers are spread over 22,000 acres and have the capacity to produce enough power for 120,000 homes or about 1.3 billion kilowatt hours annually.

A challenge that Meyer has seen in McLean County, particularly around the Twin Cities, is agriculture’s struggle with balancing urban sprawl.

“Bloomington-Normal has done very well. It’s been one of the leading growth regions,” Meyer said.

“The growth of the area has been exciting. People like to live here. They come here to college, and sometimes they don’t leave and like to stay in the area.

“That’s been a challenge because we’re sprawling out on some of the best farmland in the world where we’re building houses, parks and roads.

“That’s slowed down a little bit, but keeping that balance of how much sprawl growth we’re going to allow in McLean County has been sort of a zoning challenge for us, as well.”