By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos joined colleague Rep. Darin LaHood, Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis and others to protest the potential closing of the Peoria USDA-ARS “Ag Lab” on May 30. (Photo courtesy of Cheri Bustos)

We top this week’s news roundup with Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue’s full statement regarding President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the multi-nation Paris climate accord. We also have local and state reaction to the news that Trump’s proposed budget may result in the closure of the Peoria USDA-ARS research laboratory. Those and other newsbits for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers await those who read on …

Perdue: Earth’s climate has always been changing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The following is the full statement issued by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue, following the announcement that U.S. President Donald Trump will pull America out of the multi-nation climate accord established under the leadership of former President Barack Obama:

“President Trump promised that he would put America first and he has rightly determined that the Paris accord was not in the best interests of the United States. In addition to costing our economy trillions of dollars and millions of jobs, the accord also represented a willful and voluntary ceding of our national sovereignty. The agreement would have had negligible impact on world temperatures, especially since other countries and major world economies were not being held to the same stringent standards as the United States.

“The Earth’s climate has been changing since the planet was formed — on this there is no disagreement. At USDA, we rely on sound science and we remain fully committed to digging even deeper into research to develop better methods of agricultural production in that changing climate. Floods, droughts, and natural disasters are a fact of life for farmers, ranchers, and foresters. They have persevered in the past, and they will adapt in the future — with the assistance of the scientists and experts at USDA. To be effective, our research and programs need to be focused on finding solutions and providing state-of-the-art technologies to improve management decisions on farm and forest lands.”

Bustos, LaHood protest potential USDA lab closure

PEORIA — When news reached Peoria’s elected representatives that President Trump’s proposed budget could mean the elimination of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service’s National Center for Agricultural Utilization and Research (NCAUR), along with 200 scientist and researcher positions, Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos, a Democrat, and Illinois Rep. Darin LaHood, a Republican, hurried to the Peoria “Ag Lab” (as it is known to locals) to show their support. The lawmakers toured the facility, which has called 1815 N. University Street home since the 1930s, along with Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis, Adam Nielsen of the Illinois Farm Bureau and others.

“Protecting good paying jobs and ensuring a better future for hardworking families in Peoria shouldn’t be a partisan issue, so I’m pleased to join with Congressman LaHood as we pressure the Trump Administration to drop its proposal to eliminate Peoria’s Agriculture Research Lab,” Bustos stated, following the May 30 tour of NCAUR. “For decades, this lab has kept Peoria at the center of our agricultural economy — developing technology that has benefitted our troops, our farmers and touches the lives of Americans every single day.”

Bustos and LaHood crafted a letter to Trump to make their feelings clear, which can be read in its entirety on Bustos’ official House website. We reached out to a USDA-ARS spokesperson for comment on the proposed shuttering of the Peoria Ag Lab, but were denied our request for an interview. Instead, USDA-ARS’s Christopher Bentley sent the following response: “The President has proposed his budget, and now the appropriators in Congress will make their mark on it. We cannot know what form the final budget will take, and so it is premature to comment on the specific impacts it will have on any USDA program. Secretary Perdue has communicated to all USDA staff that there is no sense in sugar coating the budget, but he will be as transparent as possible throughout the budget process.”

Illinois Farm Fact:

Total agricultural output in the Tri-County area of Peoria, Woodford and Tazewell counties totaled an estimated $579 million in 2015. (Busey Ag Services)

Illinois lawmaker addresses ag education shortages

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois State Senator Scott Bennett’s bill that would help Illinois recruit more agricultural education teachers has passed the Illinois Senate and advanced to the Illinois House of Representatives. Bennett, a Champaign Democrat, introduced Senate Bill 1991 to address the shortage of trained educators for agricultural vocation programs in Illinois. The bill would create the Agricultural Education Shortage Task Force, which will make recommendations on the recruitment and retention of ag-ed teachers, and seek participation in related federal programs and reforms to current licensure and testing requirements.

“Agriculture and central Illinois are inseparable,” Bennett said in a news release dated May 5. “While continuing to fund agriculture education is crucial, recruiting and retaining educators to teach agriculture programs for future generations is just as important.”

In an interview last year, Bennett said that he finds it hard to believe that in a state where 25 percent of all jobs are directly tied to agriculture, there is a shortage of trained educators in the field every school year.

USDA report roundup

SPRINGFIELD — With all of the political intrigue of last week, the USDA carried on with the business of issuing weekly reports farmers count on, such as the Illinois Crop Progress and Condition report. Notable in the May 30 report: corn condition is rated 3 percent very poor, 12 percent poor, 33 percent fair, 44 percent good, and 8 percent excellent. Corn emerged, at 80 percent, is 6 percent behind the historic five-year average. In addition, soybeans emerged are at just 38 percent, far off the 47 percent five-year average. Could the rains of April be contributing to sub-par corn condition and soybean emergence estimates?

USDA’s Illinois Agricultural Prices report, issued May 31, showed that the April Prices Received Index for agricultural production rose by 2 percent from March 2017. While the Crop Production Index in Illinois increased 6.5 percent, the Livestock Production Index decreased 1.1 percent. Compared with a year earlier, the Prices Received Index is up 4.4 percent.