By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Dr. Mark Ernst, Illinois state veterinarian, led a livestock foot-and-mouth disease outbreak mock drill at the Ill. Dept. of Agriculture on March 28. (Tim Alexander photo)

In this week’s news roundup for Illinois farmers and rural dwellers, the state’s corn grower association is backing the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision to allow the use of chlorpyrifos as a crop protection tool. Also of importance to farmers, Illinois State Senator David Koehler has introduced bills that would seek reform to the state’s CAFO laws. We’ve also got a report on the mock animal disease outbreak held in Springfield this week and highlights of USDA’s prospective plantings and grain stocks reports. Please read on…

ICGA: Chlorpyrifos decision is ‘sound science’

BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Corn Growers Association (IPPA) President Justin Durdan echoed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s assertion the agency’s decision to deny a petition related to the crop protection tool chlorpyrifos marks a return to “sound science” based decision-making in Washington. The pesticide, most commonly marketed as Lorsban, provides a targeted approach to crop pest management and is an important part of many farmers’ integrated pest management programs.

The substance was under EPA review and a comment period was established under the Obama administration after being used by farmers for decades. A decision whether or not to ban the pesticide was due from EPA before March 31, but under the Trump administration directive no EPA recommendation will be forthcoming.

“We’ve commented to EPA many times, on many issues, that we support their decisions being made on sound science in a transparent manner,” commented Durdan. “We hope that this decision by the Agency to deny the petition signals a change in approach under Administrator Pruitt’s leadership.” (Illinois Corn Daily Update)

Illinois Farm Fact:

Immigrants made up 17 percent of the U.S.’ 161 million member workforce in 2016, with 33 percent working in agriculture. (Pew Institute/TIME)

Koehler sponsoring CAFO reform bills

PEORIA — State Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) announced a package of legislation last week that would make changes to laws regulating large animal barns, or confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Illinois. Koehler held a news conference on March 28, surrounded by supporters of the pair of Senate bills (SB 1272 and SB 1273) Koehler says are aimed at protecting the environment in rural Illinois.

An accompanying news release notes the recent success of anti-CAFO environmental groups who lobbied against hog barns planned on a farm in rural Fulton County near Bernadotte. Permits for the construction of the 20,000-head farm were withdrawn after considerable pushback from opposition groups and some area residents. Without offering many specifics, Koehler said his legislation, which is supported by fellow Democratic state senators John Mulroe (D-Chicago) and Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago), will bring transparency to the process of planning and expanding hog farms.

“People in rural Illinois deserve to know exactly what is going to be built in their back yard,” Koehler stated. “Registering these facilities and getting wastewater management plans on file are just a few of the steps we can take to make sure the public health of rural Illinoisans will be protected.”

Koehler’s legislation will almost certainly seek changes to the Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA), which has overseen CAFO regulatory matters since it became state law in 1996. However, both Warren Goetsch, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and Jennifer Tirey, Illinois Pork Producers Association executive director, told this columnist in March that the current LMFA is functioning extremely and well and provides a good balance between farmers’ ability to earn a living and protecting the environment. Stay tuned for more details on the bills as they become available.

FMD crisis drill prepares farmers, responders for outbreak

SPRINGFIELD — A simulated animal foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) crisis drill was held at the Illinois Department of Agriculture March 28, involving first responders, veterinarians, farmers and farm commodity association members. The gathering featured a scale model tabletop diorama of a small agricultural community used to simulate the actions producers and others must adhere to if the introduction of a highly contagious foreign animal disease such as FMD were to occur in our state. 

Participants became a part of the response effort from diagnosing the first case (on Illinois pork producer Phil Borgic’s simulated farm), mobilizing the local response, controlling and eradicating the disease, and resuming normal business operations. Maintaining consumer confidence in the U.S. beef and pork industries through education and communication is essential, presenters at the exercise stressed. First and foremost, consumers must be made aware that FMD is an animal disease that cannot be transmitted to humans and that their food supply is unaffected by the virus, which affects cloven animals including pigs, cows and sheep.

“It is crucial that the industry be prepared for an outbreak of FMD should it occur,” said Dr. Mark Ernst, Illinois State Veterinarian, who co-hosted the seven hour event. “Having an interactive tabletop exercise where the effects of an outbreak can be seen and stakeholders from across the industry can collaborate on a plan is a remarkable asset for Illinois.”

A recent study determined revenue losses to the U.S. pork and beef industries would average $12.9 billion per year from the introduction of FMD. Total cumulative losses across the commodities modeled over ten years would come to $199.99 billion, according to the Center for Rural Development and Agricultural Policy Research Institute’s pork checkoff-funded study.

Illinois planting intentions, grain stocks reported

SPRINGFIELD — The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released their Illinois Prospective Plantings report on March 31, reflecting the recent downward trend for corn and upward curve for soybeans. Illinois growers intend to plant 11.3 million acres of corn in 2017, down 3 percent from 2016, while soybean planted area is expected to increase by 1 percent to 10.2 million acres.

NASS also issued their Illinois Grain Stocks report, which showed corn stocks in all positions on March 1 totaled 1.4 billion bushels, up 9 percent from March 1 last year. Soybean stocks totaled 277 million bushels, up 16 percent from last year. Wheat stocks in all positions totaled 36.5 million bushels, up 46 percent from March 1, 2016. (USDA-NASS Heartland Office)