SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Representatives from nearly 50 diverse agricultural organizations met with lawmakers at the state capitol during the 53rd annual Illinois Ag Legislative Day on March 29.
The festivities kicked off with state executive and legislative leaders touting the importance of agriculture to Illinois.
“This event is a great tradition. It brings together farm organizations, commodity groups and, most importantly in my mind, our youth in agriculture in the state of Illinois to talk to lawmakers about the importance of agriculture and agricultural issues in the state,” said Jerry Costello II, Illinois Department of Agriculture director.
“After three long years, it is truly wonderful to be together with everyone to see all of your smiling faces as we gather here in person once again. Through it all, you stayed committed to your education, to your community and to your collective futures. Your dedication and resilience represents what makes Illinois the greatest state in this nation, and as your governor, I really couldn’t be prouder,” added Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
The governor noted legislation that invested $550,000 to pay FFA membership dues for every student enrolled in agriculture classes in the state. The move increased FFA membership from 23,000 to 40,000 in one year.
“This is an investment in you, our students and your education. But it’s also an investment in our economy, in our families and in our entire ag community across the state,” Pritzker said.
“Agriculture will always be the heart of who we are as a state. It’s our biggest industry and I’m proud to say today it is thriving.”
Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, who leads the Ag Connects Us All initiative for the Pritzker administration, said ag legislative day “is an opportunity to come together as a team, as one Illinois, and tap into the ideas that will steward our agriculture industry to reach even greater heights.”
“The best part about uplifting Illinois ag is working for and with you, the farmers, growers, workers, educators and producers who are the life force of this industry,” Stratton said.
“You hold the wisdom. You understand what is working and what we can do better, and you hold the vision of the future of ag and it’s up to us to listen and learn from each of you.”
FFA State President Rachel Wood of Industry, a member of the Nashville-Industry FFA Chapter, referred for the first line of the FFA creed, “I believe in the future of agriculture.”
“We as FFA members in the blue jackets, we believe in the future of agriculture, and every FFA member you’re going to see today is here because they believe in the future of agriculture,” Wood said.
“When you say that you believe in the future of agriculture, you say that you believe in something that is so much larger than yourself. You believe in the industry that fuels our world. You believe not only in the jacket that you wear, but the FFA jacket you get to share with so many other people.
“You understand that agriculture is comprised of many people. It’s farmers in the field and it’s people working for us in Springfield. We believe in the future of agriculture and we believe in the thousands and millions of people that are along the agriculture industry with us.
“We also believe not only in the FFA organization, but in agricultural education. We believe that every individual deserves to understand where their food comes from, where the food, fiber and fuel that runs our nation comes from, and we believe that agricultural education is the answer.”
When the morning “ag pep rally” concluded, representatives from the various ag groups headed to the state capitol to personally deliver their messages to lawmakers and legislative staff.
AgriNews shadowed two Illinois Corn Growers Association representatives as they began their meetings with representatives and senators. There were about 10 ICGA leaders and staff in attendance.
It was ICGA director and treasurer Mark Bunselmeyer’s first Ag Legislative Day experience representing a commodity group. He previously attended the event 20 years ago when he was an agriculture teacher.
“I am really proud of this opportunity, whether it’s with the FFA kids or the commodity organizations, to be able to talk with the legislators or their aides and be able to express issues. I think it’s a great opportunity,” said Bunselmeyer, who raises corn and soybeans in Macon County with his father and brother-in-law.
He noted the importance of connecting with both rural and urban legislators.
“We’re all part of the same state and we are all feeding the same economy and providing for it. Different opportunities are going to affect us all, whether we’re urban or rural, we’re still using that same fuel that’s coming from that same corn product that we’re producing,” Bunselmeyer said.
“We may at times feel like we’re in different worlds, but we are all part of the same state and part of the same community and we all need to work together.”
Rodney Weinzierl, ICGA executive director, was teamed up with Bunselmeyer, with their first stop at the office of state Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, where they met with Turner’s chief of staff, Renee Martin, to discuss ethanol and other issues.
Weinzierl, who as served as ICGA executive director since 1993, has been attending Ag Legislative Day as an ICGA representative since 1989.
He was asked if the issues have changed much over the years.
“Ethanol has probably almost every year at the top of the list. There were probably a number of years where it was not, but it feels like it,” Weinzierl said.
“I’d say the issues are probably more challenging for Illinois agriculture just in the sense that there are a lot fewer farms than what there was 30-some years ago, and there’s a lot more people further removed from the farm, and so just providing the basic education to legislators.
“That’s really what is a lot behind the Illinois Farm Families initiating ‘We are the 96′ this year. A lot of people don’t understand that 96% of the farms in Illinois are family farms.
“So, to a certain extent, days like this, having all of these ag folks here, especially the young folks with FFA and 4-H, really helps kind of drive that message at a very high level rather than getting so specific on some of the different bills.
“Because what we’ve found is that when people find that farmers are family farmers then they can relate with their family and they’re more amenable to our message that’s important to maybe parts of the state that’s not their district.”
Several ICGA leaders from throughout the state attended Ag Legislative Day and were at the state capitol visiting their respective state representatives and senators from their districts.
“We’re trying to meet with some of the leadership of the House and Senate ag committees, as well as talking more specifically about our issues, which is mainly the ethanol industry and kind of where that’s going and what we can do to maybe help keep it going out there especially as we deal with more electric vehicles in the marketplace,” Weinzierl noted.