MONTICELLO, Ill. — In his first appearance with Illinois Farmers Market Association members, John Sullivan had a bounty of information to share with only two months on the job as the Illinois Department of Agriculture director.
In the real estate and farm equipment auction business with his family and a former state senator for 14 years, Sullivan’s roots are deep in farm country near Rushville in western Illinois.
While his new duties cover agriculture from A to Z, the specialty crop growers, small business owners and agency staff who make the state’s farmers markets a success are an important window for all consumers to benefit from agriculture.
Here’s what Sullivan had to say:
On Industrial Hemp
Our hope and desire is that (the final rules review) is going to sign off on them without any drastic changes because I’ve made a pledge that I’m going to do everything I can to see that producers can plant hemp this year. I think we’re going to make it.
(The final review) should be finished by the end of the month and give us a couple of weeks to finish up the permitting and applications process, so folks are going to be able to by early to mid May be able to start planting hemp.
The department of ag has seen the number of complaints go from 25, maybe 50, and up to a 100 in a really volatile year. Well, in 2017, the number of complaints jumped up almost to 350, and in 2018, they almost went to 550.
So, there’s a huge spike. They call them the twin towers, which I don’t like, but at any rate...
Illinois put some further restrictions on the applications as far as when it can be applied, what are the conditions, how soon after sunrise and before sunset and a number of other additions. I will tell you not everybody was happy with it...
In southern Illinois, we sow a lot of wheat. After they harvest wheat in late June, they will double crop or plant soybeans in there. So, of course, their application of herbicide for the soybeans comes late in the season.
One of the restrictions we put on the chemical is that you cannot apply it after June 30. So, the folks in southern Illinois were not especially pleased, because that eliminated the use of that product for them.
The reason we did it and the science behind it is that the product becomes much more volatile as temperatures rise and as humidity affects as wind, as well.
We felt it was the right thing to do. We’re going to see what happens this year.
On Cover Crops Incentive
We’ve been working with the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, American Farmland Trust and other conservation groups to put some money into a program that would incentivize farmers to use cover crops. Iowa is doing this right now, and they’ve very, very successful with it.
They provide a producer with $5 an acre to help cover the cost of the cover crop. It’s not a huge number, but maybe it’s enough to keep people doing it or encourage someone to start.
On State Fairgrounds
We do have a number of projects underway at the fairgrounds right now. One of them being the coliseum, but there’s also the grandstand, and dairy and horse barns, as well.
Down in Du Quoin, they also have some older buildings in need of remodeling and renovation… We are very fortunate that we do have some capital money and we have to start rebuilding those buildings.
I made the mistake of quoting in a newspaper that I believe the way to revitalize rural America is that we need some infrastructure there; not just roads, bridges and schools, that’s obvious, but broadband service is a huge issue in many parts of the state, including right here…
Well, Gov. Pritzker read the article and I get an email from the governor. It’s says, “John, I just read your quote in the paper and I appreciate it. This is something that I want to work on…”
Here’s the goal: We may see a capital bill approved before end of May.
If it happens, I’m going to try very, very hard to carve out a portion of that capital bill for broadband expansion.
The question is: What’s it going to take to make a difference? And the first problem we identified is that there’s no map of the state that shows where current service is.
The department of ag literally is putting in pollinator plots around the fairgrounds, beginning next week. It’s going to be a three-year process. We, of course, understand how important pollinators, are.