By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Leaders from Illinois’ top farm commodity groups, the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) met for a 2023 Farm Bill Roundtable session hosted by U.S. Congresswoman Cheri Bustos of Illinois (D-17th). The meeting, held on Agriculture Day (Tuesday, Aug. 16) at the IDOA John Block Building on the state fairgrounds, was co-hosted by Ill. State Sen. Patrick Joyce (D-40th) following the fair’s annual Agriculture Breakfast.
Tops on the minds of Illinois agricultural leaders were protection of crop insurance, retention of the Food and Nutrition title of the farm bill, expansion of export marketing programs and elimination of language within the 2018 Farm Bill that ties commodity program enrollment to participation in USDA conservation programs.
Recent surveys of the membership of the Illinois Corn Growers Association (ICGA) have shown that their membership is very concerned about proposals to cap individual crop insurance benefit amounts and require more stringent proof of eligibility for payouts, according to Rodney Weinzierl, ICGA president.
“We are very interested in retaining the 508(h) system in crop insurance, which is how you develop new crop insurance products. We believe that agriculture is always changing and we need innovation in the crop insurance space to do that,” said Weinzierl. “We’re a little concerned that people who don’t like crop insurance, that don’t like the baseline that crop insurance has, might be going after that item that allows innovation.”
Protecting crop insurance is the top farm bill agenda issue of the Illinois Soybean Growers (ISG), according to ISG Director Ron Kindred, a farmer from Atlanta, Ill. “This is our top risk management tool to go along with the PLC and ARC programs that are currently offered. Maintaining our safety net is the top priority of our organization.”
Richard Guebert, Jr., president of the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB), agreed that maintaining current crop insurance levels and guarantees was a top priority for all of the state’s farmers. “It’s vitally important, particularly in these volatile times of high input and fuel costs. We all know at some point in time that commodity prices will fall back, and if they fall below the cost of production that will affect everyone, particularly our young and beginning farmers.”
IFB members would also like Congress to rewrite a portion of the farm bill that determines base payments by administrative county production rather than actual land production, Guebert said.
Food & Nutrition Title:
ICGA’s Weinzierl noted that a number of corn growers are concerned about the possibility of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) becoming separated from the farm bill. While this has been an issue that legislators from “farm” states have had to defend over many past farm bill cycles, the amount of extra emergency funding put into the SNAP program in recent years due to the Covid pandemic has thrust the debate under a fresh spotlight.
“I think there is going to be a whole lot of debate and discussion on this,” said Weinzierl. “I think it is exceedingly important as production agriculture that we are supportive of the nutrition programs. With remapping, we are probably under 40 districts in the U.S. that are in production agriculture, and it takes 218 votes to pass something in the House. We’re a little bit shy of that, so we have to convince other members of Congress to be supportive of something in that bill that they care about. Every district has a challenge with food and nutrition within their district.”
Kindred seconded Weinzierl’s pledge of support for retention of the SNAP program in the farm bill. “We think there is a real good synergy between the growers and the need out there in the U.S., and we need to make sure that we keep the nutrition program with the farm bill. If they do separate those, there’s a good possibility we don’t get a farm bill-- and it’s important we take that message to The Hill.”
“Exports are very important to us as a state and as farmers,” Weinzierl said. “We export over 50 percent of the corn we harvest in Illinois as corn or corn products. Trade promotion monies have not been raised since 2002, and inflation and costs have changed a lot over the last two decades. This is an item that’s very high on our list.”
Kristi Jones, deputy agriculture director for the IDOA, said that IDOA also supports more resources going towards export marketing promotion in the 2023 Farm Bill. “For every dollar invested in export market development, $24 is returned in export revenue,” she said.
Kindred said that with 60 percent of Illinois-grown soybeans destined for export markets, improving resources for export promotion within the farm bill is a top priority of the ISG and the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA).
“We oppose the expansion of conservation compliance to commodity program participation. That was a big fight or conversation in the last farm bill,” said Guebert, a southern Illinois farmer who was re-elected IFB president earlier this year.
“It’s important that we maintain conservation programs that are voluntary,” said ISG’s Kindred. “We’re working on ways we can enhance those programs and we know that the administration is very in tune with climate initiatives. So if we can structure something on the conservation programs to help with that initiative, we will bring that forward.”
Local foods; FAD prevention:
Jones of the IDOA said the department would like to see more resources directed at local food expansion within the next farm bill. “We are looking for supply chain solutions that increase equity in the food system for underserved and beginning farmers,” she explained, before detailing a USDA program grant that is helping IDOA connect underserved Illinois farmers with underserved communities. “This is a $14 million project, but we know that we will need additional dollars to make that model sustainable.”
IDOA would also like to see additional money allocated at the federal level for states to hire more veterinary personnel charged with keeping foreign animal diseases (FADs) at bay. “In case of a FAD outbreak we can not go it alone-- we need the help of the federal government,” Jones said.
Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Assoc. (IPPA), said Illinois farmers and consumers would be impacted “very dramatically” in the event of a major FAD within the state. “We’d like to see at least the current level but perhaps an increase in the amount of dollars for animal disease, to help keep FAD’s such as African swine fever and hoof and mouth disease out of Illinois. If this happened to our livestock farmers, it would not only decimate the pork and livestock industry but also the state’s corn and soybean industries,” she said.