ELLIS GROVE, Ill. — The new farm bill, conservation programs and regulations are among the areas the Illinois Farm Bureau has focused on in working on behalf of Prairie State farmers.
“I’d really like to see a farm bill that is passed in a bipartisan overwhelming majority of our leadership in Washington, D.C., as the last farm bill. I hope that we can get there sooner than later,” said IFB President Richard Guebert Jr.
The current farm bill expires in 2023 and IFB hosted listening sessions in August and September across Illinois to gather input from farmers on their priorities that should be included in the new legislation.
“We want to maintain the baseline that we do have. We want to keep the nutrition title and the commodity title together in the farm bill,” Guebert said.
“We’d like to see the commodity loan rates increase and make sure that our young farmers and ranchers have access to capital to do what they need to do on the farm.
Our livestock producers need to maintain that risk management tool in their toolbox to give them the security in their livestock production going forward.”
Guebert also hopes to see more conservation programs, particularly in the areas of conservation structures and additional cover crop incentives.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there for farmers and they want to participate in this climate conversation. However, we need to find a way that agriculture can get a fair return for the investment that they’re doing to help with the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy or sequestering carbon in the soils — $15 an acre just doesn’t cover the cost of cover crops — and find a way that we can participate,” he said.
“We’ve been no-tilling on our farm for over 30 years and we have used cover crops for five or six years. In order for me to participate in those (carbon sequestration) programs, I have to change my farming practices. I’m not going to give up no-till. That’s really been good for us because we believe in the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy of using cover crops, and so I’m not willing to change it.
“We’ve got to figure out a way that farmers who have been doing those practices for years can participate and bring some dollars to the farm gate.
“Cover crops work well for us in southwestern Illinois, but I have friends in northern Illinois who don’t have near the opportunities to participate in cover crops like we do. Our growing season is much longer. Theirs is a lot shorter. So, there’s got to be some give and take on how everyone can participate in those programs.”
IFB issued an action request in August urging its grassroots advocacy program, FB ACT, the Farm Bureau Agricultural Contact Team, to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to refrain from implementing stricter limits on the use of atrazine.
EPA introduced the suggested label restrictions that would include setting the acceptable level, or concentration equivalent level of concern, of atrazine at 3.4 parts per billion.
That level, if finalized, would fall below the 15 ppb CE-LOC set by EPA in 2020 under an interim registration decision.
The agency’s proposal also calls for prohibiting applications in saturated fields, limiting annual application rates and requiring growers in watersheds with atrazine levels above 3.4 ppb to choose from a “pick list” of practices to mitigate runoff.
“We really need to make sure that they take a scientific approach to do what is appropriate,” Guebert said.
“Atrazine is an old standby herbicide my dad used years and years ago. It is important to agriculture production in Illinois. I talked to my counterpart in Louisiana and they’re very limited on what they can use on sugarcane and atrazine is an important herbicide that they use in sugarcane production.”
IFB and numerous commodity groups have long advocated for funding upgrades in the antiquated waterways infrastructure. It finally came to pass when Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The legislation provides $17 billion for ports and waterways infrastructure, including $25 billion of federal funding for inland waterways construction and major rehabilitation projects and $4 billion for Army Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance.
In 2018, 83 million tons of freight valued at $13.2 billion moved on Illinois’ inland waterways, according to the National Waterways Foundation.
“When I came on in state leadership in Farm Bureau 18 years ago, that was the topic of conversation, and back then we were fortunate enough to get the unions and agriculture to talk about how we can fund improvements for locks and dams on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers,” Guebert said.
“We were very fortunate and very appreciative of what Congress has done in appropriating those dollars to get some improvements on the Illinois and Mississippi river systems. It’s been a long, long walk.”
Guebert, who is in his fifth and final term as IFB president, also reflected on his years serving as the organization’s 15th president.
“I only have another year and a few months remaining left in my last term as Illinois Farm Bureau president and I’ve enjoyed the opportunities agriculture has given me, the people who I’ve met and I’m just honored to be a part of Illinois agriculture,” he said.