May 22, 2024

A Year in the Life of a Farmer: From association to civic involvement and farming, Rush wears many hats

AgriNews will follow Matt Rush throughout the entire year. Each month, look for updates about the farmer and the decisions he makes on his farm.

FAIRFIELD, Ill. — If it’s January, you’re most likely to find Matt Rush on the road and on his way to a meeting.

The new president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association was on his way to the annual meeting for the White County Farm Bureau on this particular day. When asked if he was traveling to Chicago, Rush laughed.

“That was last week,” he said.

A busy winter meeting schedule is all in a day’s work for the Wayne County farmer.

Rush was elected in November to lead ICGA. He has served as a district director for the association, so the travel schedule didn’t come as a surprise.

“It’s really busy from January through March. Then they give us some time to get the crop in. Then we fire back up with meetings in July and August. We take a break for harvest and start back up in November. It’s a continuous cycle,” he said.

On the farm right now, getting equipment repaired and ready for planting is the top job.

“We’re repairing machinery and doing a lot of grain hauling,” Rush said.

The only crimp in his travel plans could happen when a planned trip to Washington happens at the end of March, close to when planters traditionally start rolling in southern Illinois.

“I laugh because we are supposed to be in D.C. at the end of March. Ideally, we like to start planting beans around April 5 and we fire up the corn planter in the middle of April,” he said.

Rush farms with his father, Jim, near Fairfield. They raise corn, white corn, soybeans and wheat and cattle.

“It’s a blessing to be able to farm with my father. I couldn’t do this if he wasn’t around,” Rush said.

In January, Rush and others from the ICGA traveled to Washington to meet with new and returning members of Congress.

“The farm bill is the buzzword right now and everybody is talking about it. We have several new members of Congress in Illinois, so we’re trying to get everybody up to speed on the farm bill,” Rush said.

Even as he and others from ICGA introduced themselves to the new members of Congress, the legacy of a newly retired member and champion of ethanol lingers.

In 2021, Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat who then represented the 17th congressional district, introduced the Next Generation Fuels Act.

That legislation, which was supported by lawmakers in both political parties, would increase gasoline octane to a minimum standard through the use of renewable fuels.

Bustos retired at the end of the last Congress and Rep. Eric Sorenson, a Democrat and former TV meteorologist, won the election for the northern Illinois seat.

“The Next Generation Fuels Act is a pretty hot topic. Since Rep. Bustos has retired from Congress, we’re working on getting that reintroduced in this Congress in the House and Senate. That is a high priority for us,” Rush said.

For his own farm, Rush said maintaining existing farm bill programs is a priority.

“I’ve been happy with the current farm bill. As long as they leave crop insurance alone, that’s probably the biggest thing for me,” he said.

“We know that there is not going to be a whole lot of new money in this new farm bill, so we are trying to utilize what we have to best benefit farmers.”

Rush’s farm is located in southern Illinois and, when it comes to markets, in a prime location.

“We are two hours south of Champaign, two hours east of St. Louis and we’re tucked down here in the southeastern part of the state. I joke that we don’t have the yields that northern and central Illinois have, but we’re blessed with some good export market opportunities,” he said.

That includes being just an hour from Mount Vernon, Indiana. The town on the Ohio River is the home of an ADM Milling terminal, an ADM Grain terminal, a Consolidated Grain and Barge soybean processing facility and two ethanol plants.

“We’re in Mount Vernon, Indiana, a lot,” Rush said.

Trade and building and adding export markets is one area that Rush said he would like to see action on from the Biden administration.

“I have been a little discouraged by the current administration’s lack of new trade efforts and trying to go out and find new trade deals and opportunities. The Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, which are farm bill programs, might be a good place to add some funding so we can try to get some more trade happening,” he said.

“Here in the U.S. we continue to grow large crops and we are blessed with that and we have to have a place to go with them, so trade is pretty important to us.”

Rush quit planting wheat because of the market not being there, but started back up in 2019.

“We plant a little bit of wheat every year and we are far enough south that we are able to double crop it. It looks really good,” he said.

“Besides the cold spell right before Christmas, with the blistery wind chills, we’ve had a really mild winter, so the wheat is really green and looks really good.

“We manage the wheat crop a lot differently than we did 15 to 20 years ago. It’s a high intensity crop now and we are able to push those yields a little bit.”

Rush is a graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, with a degree in agriculture education and a minor in agricultural economics.

He worked as a 4-H youth development and Extension program educator for eight years, returning home in 2014 to farm. He served as chairman of the Illinois Farm Bureau Young Leader Committee in 2015.

Rush and his wife, Sara, have two children. Jacob is a junior at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, and Lucy is a senior in high school and is enlisted in the Illinois National Guard.

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor