|By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) director Chuck Hartke held a “holiday teleconference call” Dec. 21 to answer questions about current agricultural issues, including Premise I.D., BSE surveillance, Asian soybean rust, the future of renewable fuels, and other topics important to the state’s farmers.
“We had a great year at the Department of Agriculture,” Hartke told reporters. “And 2006 crop production in the state of Illinois was really good overall, actually better than we anticipated.”
Hartke said his department and the state’s agricultural producers had plenty to be thankful for in 2006, including the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Rod Blagojevich’s approval of the anhydrous ammonia grant program, which provides funds to combat the theft of anhydrous, an ingredient used in the making of methamphetamine. The program is now implemented in 21 Illinois counties.
He also lauded the department’s procurement of $233,000 from the federal government for BSE (Mad Cow disease) research and defense. Under terms of a two-year agreement, the IDOA will conduct 150 farm inspections and analyze 500 feed samples, as well as inspect 50 agribusinesses that either sell, blend or transport cattle feed.
Hartke said the state is making strides in enlisting livestock farmers to enroll in voluntary Premise I.D., a federal program designed to stem the spread of animal diseases.
“We have around 5,000 producers registered in the program, though there could be as many as 30,000 livestock premises in Illinois if you count every yard with a cow or chicken,” Hartke said. “Premise I.D. is still in the forefront, and we have been encouraged by the federal government to be a little more proactive in 2007.”
Soybean farmers, especially those in southern Illinois, must again be on the lookout for Asian soybean rust this year, the director stated.
“The rust came very late in the (2006) season, after most beans were harvested,” said Hartke, adding the rust was confined to the southernmost areas of the state. “Last summer we knew it was coming but didn’t know when. We will be on top of that again (in 2007).”
A big problem facing Illinois is the appearance of the emerald ash borer, which has been identified in the northern Illinois counties of Kane and Cook. The tiny predator is said to be responsible for the destruction of around 25 million trees in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. The federal government has placed a quarantine on moving firewood in and out of the state of Illinois in hope of stopping the destructive pest from spreading further havoc.
“This is a devastating little beetle,” Hartke said, recounting a recent trip to Michigan during which it appeared to him that up to one-third of all ash trees were lost to the voracious borer. “We must stop the movement of firewood into and out of the state. The movement of firewood is the main culprit.”
Hartke said the department would continue to study ways to combat the pest.
Bright future for corn
The director said the future looks bright for the state’s corn producers, though it may be a couple of more years before there is a noticeable increase in demand. Once some 20 ethanol plants currently under construction throughout the state are operational, Hartke said demand for corn could shoot upward, though to the detriment of livestock farmers. However, researchers are currently studying ways to “fine-tune” ethanol plant byproducts to make them more acceptable for livestock feed, according to Hartke.
The director said he still expects corn acreage to increase in 2007, perhaps by as much as 10 percent overall. Hartke said that if corn acreage doesn’t increase by any more than 10 percent, farmers should be able to keep their profit margins.
Of ethanol production, Hartke said the U.S. must become more energy self-sufficient and Illinois’ rich, fertile soil could provide the foundation for the renewable fuels revolution.
“We are in a race with all the states around us; everybody is getting in this race to put these (production) facilities up. If we don’t continue to research and develop renewable fuels, we will fall behind. We must continue to find (funding) for renewable fuel development,” said Hartke, adding that biodiesel fuel production will also be a key component of Illinois’ agricultural future.
Hartke told reporters that the 2007 Farm Bill and managing higher input prices, including fuel and energy, will also be key concerns of Illinois producers this year.
“With all of the challenges we have, there are also all kinds of new opportunities,” Hartke concluded. “We look forward to a very happy and prosperous New Year.”
This farm news was published in the Jan. 3, 2007 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.