BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Despite the many challenges over the past year caused by the pandemic, Illinois Corn chalked up numerous successes and the leadership is optimistic going into the new year.
Rodney Weinzierl, Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Corn Marketing Board executive director, looked back at 2021 and ahead in an interview at ICGA’s annual meeting.
As in 2020, virtual meetings were the commonly used communication tool this past year.
“In one respect I think most people from a leadership standpoint are probably a little bit amazed of what we were able to get done with the pandemic going on. Going to virtual meetings with congressional offices and congressmen and congresswomen or the senators, three years ago you would have thought you wouldn’t get anything done,” Weinzierl said.
“Participation was great. Attentiveness was great on both sides. There were good conversations. You don’t want to put too many people on those kind of calls and it’s kind of one of the challenges with virtual, but still there were some high degree of success.”
Illinois Corn and other commodity groups have pressed Congress for well over a decade to invest in modernizing the antiquated water transportation system in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. It finally became a reality with passage of the infrastructure package this year.
“The bipartisan infrastructure package is going to mean a lot to the next 2 1/2 generations of farmers in what we think will happen on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in the upgrading of the lock system. That’s going to add to the U.S. farmers’ competitiveness and once that’s done that asset or advantage is going to be here for long, long time, just like or forefathers when they built the lock system 80 years ago,” Weinzierl said.
“That’s a really big deal. There are still some things we’ve got to make sure that happen and make sure it goes right, but if this next generation of locks that we build over the next decade can last for the next eight decades, that’s a big deal, and people should not underestimate the impact of that.”
Agriculture and other Midwest industries have long known the importance of river transportation and Weinzierl recalled when others from states beyond the Midwest also learned of its importance.
“Hurricane Katrina hit 16 years ago and right after that for the first time we had farmers from Kansas say, ‘Well, now we understand the impact of the river,’ because the river bid sets the price of all U.S. corn and soybeans because of it’s competition it creates relative to rail,” he said.
“Corn and soybeans went down 40 cents a bushel the day after Katrina and the farmers in Kansas saw what the river system does to their markets in Kansas. That’s what this can mean and efficiency will make for a stronger bid, but it also cuts cost and that means the buyers are going to have a better deal from the U.S. because of that.
“It’s a big deal and the organization is going to make sure we follow through and do what we think the intent of Congress and what the president is to make sure that happens.”
Looking ahead to 2022, Illinois Corn leadership will continue to follow through on the lock upgrades to make sure the projects remain on track.
“We’re going to know a lot in the next 60 days just due to the direction that Congress gave in that bill to the Army Corps of Engineers,” Weinzierl said.
The organization is also focused on the progress of the Next Generation Fuels Act that was introduced by U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
“We think that really will set the tone for ethanol for the next 20 years if not longer, and we see some opportunities to add not only co-sponsors to that, but to bring more organizations into the tent in support,” Weinzierl said.
“We’re getting a lot of interest from not only the auto manufacturers and the UAW who are supportive, but also other ag organizations, American Farm Bureau Federation, obviously corn, but also interest from some of these companies that make parts for the auto industry — transmissions, fuel injectors.
“I think we’ll also get some interest from people that are really concerned as we all should be around the challenges of climate. Liquid biofuels, ethanol, is something that we could do right now and is going to be a big part of the fuel system for the next several decades. So, I think we’ll get more traction there, as well, as we go into 2022 and beyond.
“A lot of the discussion recently around the bipartisan infrastructure package, the Build Back Better, the soft infrastructure package the administration is interested in has had a lot of focus around electric.
“Gov. Pritzker’s climate energy bill that passed this year was focused a lot around electric, but that’s really looking out a long ways forward and there’s an opportunity and I think there’d be interest in liquid fuels and what biofuels, in particular ethanol and biodiesel, can do in the near term.”
A new farm bill is scheduled to be enacted in 2023 when the current bill expires, and Weinzierl said the organization has already begun preparing for providing input.
“The last couple of farm bills didn’t necessarily make it on time so it’s possible. But you’re going to see a lot of congressional hearings. You’re going to see a lot of analysis going on in 2022 as we get ready for the farm bill. But with the mid-term elections I don’t anticipate a farm bill passing until we get into 2023 and into the next term of Congress,” he noted.
“There’s going to be a lot of work done ahead of that. We’re actively working. We’re surveying members asking what works, what doesn’t work. Once we’ve kind of identified what’s working and what’s not working, we’ll then try to figure out if it doesn’t work what are the suggests on how to make it work, bringing in some expertise from the University of Illinois and other folks who spend a lot of time in that space and be ready for those farm bill hearings once they get going.”