SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — In the state capitol, just a few miles from his former office as director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and from the state capitol building, where he once strolled as president of Illinois Farm Bureau, Philip Nelson returned to the podium to speak to an ag audience.
“This is almost like homecoming,” said Nelson to the members of the Illinois Association of Agricultural Fairs gathered for their annual convention.
Nelson, who operates a grain and livestock farm near Seneca in La Salle County, highlighted his own experience with county fairs.
“I feel like I’m a product of the county fair association. Our family exhibited livestock for almost four decades at county fairs and state fairs. I know a number of you, what you stand for, what you believe in — and congratulations, you all deserve a nice round of applause for that,” he said.
Nelson discussed the outside forces, from environmental groups to animal rights groups, trying to influence farming and food production.
“I’ve had the opportunity to be part of five farm bill discussions, to fly into our nation’s capitol and testify before the House and Senate ag committees. It’s a unique privilege to do that on behalf of agriculture,” he said.
“You look around those conference rooms and as we begin a new conference discussion, for the new farm bill, you see the likes of Farm Bureau and corn and soybean national farmers’ organizations, they’re all there.
“You also see the people who don’t have attachment to agriculture there, the League of Women Voters, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Animal Liberation Front, just to name a few.”
Illinois county and community fairs are a way for farmers and others involved in the agriculture industry to continue to tell their farm stories and the story of U.S. agriculture to non-farmers.
“That is why it is even more important for this organization to help tell that story. And you do it well at your county fairs, whether it’s the barnyard zoos, the petting zoos, the barn tours, in bridging that gap between the rural and the urban people who don’t understand what we do and how we do it,” Nelson said.
He challenged his audience to dare to be different.
“We have to keep on dreaming. I know some of you are scratching your heads and going — what does that have to do with being successful in what we do? Dreams are important,” he said.
“Dreams are nothing more than creative thinking. If you look back at this industry of agriculture and look at the creativity we have had.”
Nelson went on to list achievements including the McCormick reaper, John Deere inventing the steel plow and Henry Ford inventing a plastic car, made from soybeans, in 1941.
“That’s creativity. That’s dreaming to have a brighter future than what we have today and the same can be said for each and every one of us,” he said.
Nelson also urged the members of the county fair boards in the audience to be the people who make things happen.
“There are three groups of people in agriculture today. There are those who make things happen. There are those who watch things happen. And the third group wonders what happened,” he said.
“If we’re going to be successful in telling agriculture’s story and making a difference and daring to be a little different, we have to be the people who make things happen.”