Political insiders identify top issues in Illinois

AgriNews photo/Karen Binder Legislative and political issues prompted numerous areas of concern by state Office of the Senate President staff member Mitch Schaben (from left), lobbyist Rich Clemmons and Illinois Agriculture Director John Sullivan.

EFFINGHAM, Ill. — From new opportunities with cannabis-related production to dicamba applications and minimum wage, some of Illinois agriculture’s top legislative observers recently shared what issues they are watching closely.

Illinois Agriculture Director John Sullivan, lobbyist Rich Clemmons and state Office of the Senate President staff member Mitch Schaben gathered for a panel discussion at the Illinois Beef Association Summer Conference in Effingham.

The issues raised by each of them are those they urge all producers to be aware of or learn more about how they may impact ag operations.

Here’s what they had to say:

Recreational Cannabis

Illinois recent passage of new laws allowing production and use of recreational cannabis calls for regulation by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. This includes licensing, processing and transportation matters.

“It is a huge undertaking. It’s going to be a lot of manpower at the department. We do feel that we did get money to take care of it, but it’s a very significant piece of legislation, one that we will put a lot of resources towards to make sure it’s done right,” Sullivan said.

Industrial Hemp

Interest in industrial hemp production and processing as a new ag product also falls under the state ag department’s purview. While laws allowing this new crop were approved last year, the licensing process started in May.

“This is one issue that has generated more interest than anyone ever expected was industrial hemp,” Sullivan commented.

Following a hurried rulemaking process to accommodate the growing season, applications were opened on May 1.

“The site was absolutely bombarded with folks wanting to apply for an industrial hemp license,” Sullivan added.

Close to 800 grower applications and around 200 processer applications representing 16,000 acres of hemp were on file as of mid-June.

“Now, just like the corn and soybean farmers are having trouble getting their crops in, they are facing the same challenges. I don’t anticipate all those acres will be planted this year,” Sullivan said. “I’m thrilled with the amount of interest.”

He also noted that demonstration plots have been planted on the state fairgrounds in Springfield.

Gaming Bill

A comprehensive gambling bill included permission for placement of video gaming machines at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in Perry County.

Proceeds collected from the gambling will go into fairground maintenance and the state’s horse racing industry.

Rural Broadband

Work is underway by state authorities to improve and to expand reliable and affordable broadband services throughout the state’s rural regions.

It is believed this improved access will improve quality of life, offer more business opportunities, expand educational opportunities and allow more services.

Cover Crop Incentive

A new law modeled off a successful Iowa program creates a cash incentive to encourage more row crop farmers to use cover crops to improve soils and reduce nutrient loss.

While this first year only has a $300,000 funding pool through federal crop insurance, additional incremental funding increases are scheduled annually. Illinois is the top state contributing the most nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into the Mississippi River.

Capital Improvement Bill

Among dozens of projects, $33 million has been earmarked in the state capital improvement bill for delayed maintenance and renovations at the state’s fairgrounds.

Work on the historic Horse Coliseum in Springfield is in process of renovation and promises to be ready for the Aug. 8 fair opening.

Dicamba Application Deadline

New label requirements have been extended to allow application until July 15 instead of the original June 30 deadline.

Rainy weather and planting delays prompted the Illinois ag department officials to give farmers another two weeks and encourage them to strictly follow the label.

New General Assembly Membership

There are 50 new members, many of whom are not familiar with agricultural issues and could benefit from educational opportunities.

Antibiotics Regulation

Senate Bill 1186 sought to create a process for regulating livestock antibiotics at the state level instead of at the federal level and is modeled off the federal program. Although the bill is stalled, it’s believed that the public’s growing interest in this topic will prompt other related bills in the future.

Livestock Siting

Also stalled is Senate Bill 2252, which looks to offer more local land use and permitting control to local governments instead by the state. It also called for the local jurisdiction to range to within a 1.5 miles of a community.

Karen Binder can be reached at 618-534-0614 or kbinder@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Binder.

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