SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — For the previous 50 years, Agricultural Legislative Day brought together dozens of farm-related organizations and over 1,000 Illinois FFA members to meet with state lawmakers.
The 51st annual event was much different than those over the past half century, but the main message remained in supporting the state’s vast and vital agriculture industry.
Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton led off the virtual event that also featured lawmakers and industry and youth leaders.
“Ag Legislative Day 2020 was my second day on the job as director of agriculture. Since then we have weathered many storms in the ag community due to the pandemic. But there are so many things for us to be proud of,” Costello said.
“The resilience of ag in Illinois is nothing short of incredible, from avoiding shutdowns in our food supply chain to thinking outside the box when in-person training and testing couldn’t be done.
“We at the Department of Agriculture developed an online format that is so efficient it is used as a model by our surrounding states. We also prioritized a way to honor our youth with junior livestock and horse shows when our state fairs couldn’t be held safely.”
He credited Pritzker for his executive order at the beginning of the pandemic making agriculture an essential industry.
“It truly put our industry in a position to be much more nimble over the past year, from access to personal protective equipment for workers during a shortage to the ability to get vaccinated in a priority status,” he said.
“We have weathered a lot of storms this past year, but we have done it together.”— Jerry Costello II, Illinois Department of Agriculture director
Costello, a U.S. Army veteran, said his motto and that of IDOA is “improvise, adapt and overcome,” the same motto used in the military.
“That is exactly what we have done in the ag industry. As I enter my second year as the director of the Department of Agriculture, I see a light at the end of the tunnel of this pandemic. We have weathered a lot of storms this past year but we have done it together,” Costello continued.
“Out of the most trying times in our country we have experienced some of the most historic innovation. The Great Depression brought about a more monetarily efficient way of business, from grocery stores to laundromats to Henry Ford’s assembly line. In short, if there’s a silver lining of trials, tribulations and pandemics we as Americans forget our differences and work together for the common good.
“Independent of political affiliation, ethnicity or other differences, we are all Americans. Ag can be and many times is at the forefront. Let’s work together to be an example like we should for our youth.”
Pritzker said the challenges brought on by the pandemic impacted everyone including the agriculture community.
“But from the beginning of the pandemic I’ve recognized and supported our agriculture industry as essential. I worked to ensure the flow of agricultural products, inputs and equipment kept moving forward,” the governor said.
“My administration coordinated with local health departments and industry leaders to respond to food supply chain disruptions that Illinois faced. Although we were able to avoid long-term and widespread shutdowns, our ag industry was impacted. That’s why back in October we opened the Ag Business Interruption Program, providing $5 million in grants to help with livestock losses and aid for expanded processing capability. Through it all we ensured Illinoisans had access to fresh local food by keeping farmers markets, greenhouses and garden centers open.
“And although COVID shut down our 2020 state fairs, I’m looking forward with optimism to holding safe and successful fairs in Springfield and in Du Quoin this year. Better days are ahead.
“I want to thank the entire agriculture community for your extraordinary contributions to our state, our nation and the world. Illinois is proud to be a global agricultural leader, and I intend to continue to be an outspoken advocate for this industry.”
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton’s office launched “Cultivating Our Communities” initiative during the pandemic. The campaign was created in partnership with Illinois Farm Bureau, the Illinois Specialty Growers Association and Buy Fresh Buy Local Illinois.
“We promote small farms and businesses on social media and to date more 40 farms from 30 counties have been featured, including collaboration with celebrity chef Rick Bayless, increasing exposure and sales for vital ag businesses in Illinois,” Stratton said.
Stratton also chairs the governor’s Rural Affairs Council.
“We are committed to providing needed resources in downstate and underserved rural areas. We are spending $40 million in capital grants through our Fast Track program and the Opportunity Zone program with key infrastructure projects in rural areas in southern Illinois. Our Office of Broadband is setting up grant programs to help bridge the digital divide and connectivity gap in rural communities all across the state,” Stratton said.
“Agriculture is the most diverse and essential industry in the world. Ag is the bones of our existence, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear to natural remedies that help us heal to essential oils that make us beautiful to supporting industries like manufacturing, trucking, sales and more that put people to work and money into our economy.
“Ag truly does connect us all. This year more than any other in recent history has brought this to light. For the first time many people focused on where their food was coming from, how it was grown and how they could or could not get to it.
“COVID-19 produced a health crisis, but it also heightened food awareness and that’s one reason why our administration is doubling down on its commitment to expand our state’s agriculture industry to be more inclusive of all Illinoisans. The Department of Agriculture is offering a series of information sessions. The webinars are for new and beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers. This will benefit all of Illinois.”