R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Award winners, centennial farms recognized

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Republican gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey (left) chats with farmers Don and Trena Bennett of Wayne County during the Illinois State Fair Ag Breakfast on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The Bennetts attended the breakfast because their farm operation was recognized as a “centennial farm” by Ag Director Jerry Costello. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

This week’s column offers a bushel basket of news from Agriculture Day, Tuesday, August 16, at the Illinois State Fair. The day began at 8:30 am with the annual Ag Breakfast in the Orr Building on the Fairgrounds …


Pritzker announces FFA fee waiver at Ag Breakfast

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and other high-ranking Illinois lawmakers and office holders joined dozens of blue-clad FFA youth and hundreds of others from the Illinois agriculture community for the annual Illinois State Fair “Ag Breakfast,” held on Agriculture Day, Aug. 16 in the Orr Building. Also present but not participating were Republican gubernatorial challenger Darren and Cindy Bailey, who had breakfast with farmers and others at a table near the dais where Pritzker, Stratton, Illinois Dept. of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello and others delivered remarks.

Pritzker used the occasion to announce that the state of Illinois would assume the membership costs of any public high school student who wanted to join their school’s FFA program, sparking a loud cheer from the FFA members in attendance. “The future of our agriculture industry is vital to our state’s success and future growth,” said the governor. “That’s why we’re making agricultural education more accessible across Illinois. FFA is foundational to that effort; every student regardless of economic status deserves access to what FFA has to offer, in and outside the classroom.

“But previously, only two-thirds of agricultural students were able to experience FFA, meaning that 15,000 students in Illinois didn’t have access to it. That’s a missed opportunity for our students, but also for our state. So, from now on, the state of Illinois will pay FFA membership dues for every single student.”

According to the IDOA, by assuming membership fees for all FFA programs Illinois becomes an “affiliation” FFA membership state. The money for membership fees is made possible through a $550,000 appropriation in the state budget approved by the Illinois General Assembly.


Award winners, centennial farms recognized

SPRINGFIELD — Outstanding farmers, producers and ag-related industries in Illinois were recognized by the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture on Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. During the annual Ag Day Breakfast, held Aug. 16, the following award winners were recognized:

  • 2022 Fresh Roots Director’s Cup (sponsored by Farm Credit Illinois): Matt Turner of Bellflower (McLean County); Scott and Amber Poettker of Aviston (Madison County); Aaron Niebrugge of Sigel (Shelby County)
  • Golden Owl Award (sponsored by Nationwide): Kent Weber of the Seneca HS Ag Deptartment.
  • Homegrown by Heroes Farmer Veteran of the Year (sponsored by Farmer Veteran Coalition of Illinois): Brad Dearing of Dearing Country Farms
  • Illinois 4-H Family Spirit Award: (sponsored by Illinois 4-H Foundation): Vern and Leona Shaffer family of Adams Co.
  • Illinois Agri-Women Hall of Fame (sponsored by Illinois Agri-Women): Shirley Bartelt
  • Illinois Beef Association Farm Family of the Year: J. Willrett Farms of Malta (Dekalb County)
  • Illinois Local Food Changemaker Award (sponsored by Illinois Stewardship Alliance): Ed Dubrick of Cissna Park
  • Plowman of the Year (sponsored by Chicago Farmers): Ryan Tracy of Monticello
  • Illinois Pork Producer Farm Family of the Year: Darrell and Laurie Stitzel of Carroll County.
  • Illinois Specialty Growers Association Award of Excellence: the late Ted Biernacki of Tinley Park; Jerry Mills of Mills Apple Farm
  • STAR Farmer of the Year: Randy Leka of Cass and Menard counties
  • STAR Licensee of the Year: Iroquois Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Conservation Farm Family Award: Ulen Family Farms
  • Outstanding Tree Farmer: Steve and Diana White of Vermont

Also during the Ag Day Breakfast, IDOA Director Jerry Costello recognized by name and county six families with bicentennial farms, 83 families with sesquicentennial farms and 98 families with centennial farms. “These generations of farmers have been waking up at the crack of dawn to ensure families across the nation won’t go hungry and that America remains an agricultural leader,” he said. “To all of you, thank you so much for your commitment to our state’s success.”


Grand champion steer nets $105K from MK Pritzker

SPRINGFIELD — Once again, Illinois First Lady M.K. Pritzker outbid her husband, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, to claim the Grand Champion Steer at the Governor’s Sale of Champions with a bid of $105,000, tying the record she set in 2021. The champion steer was shown by Ashtin Guyer of Scott County.

Also fetching high dollars at the auction were the Land of Lincoln Grand Champion Steer, shown by Cole Caldwell of Peoria County, which drew a high bid of $30,000 from BRANDT, and the Grand Champion Barrow, shown by Drake Fletcher of Menard County, which brought $25,000 from the CME Group. In addition, Bayer Crop Science paid $18,000 for Ella Bobell of Logan County’s Land of Lincoln Grand Champion Barrow.

Grand Champion exhibitors, along with Reserve Grand Champion exhibitors, receive a portion of the proceeds from the sale of their animal. The exhibitors use the funds toward their college education or invest it back into projects for next year.

“These exhibitors are the future of agriculture in our state and represent the best of the best,” said Jerry Costello, director, Illinois Department of Agriculture. “The Sale of Champions is the cherry on top of the Illinois State Fair. To see our youth in agriculture rewarded for the work that they put into these animals is my favorite aspect of the Illinois State Fair.” (Illinois e-News release)


Master showmen (and women) honored

SPRINGFIELD — Also on Ag Day at the fair, top youth livestock exhibitors represented their respective counties in the Master Showmanship Contest, coordinated by the Illinois Farm Bureau. Carter Hoge of McDonough County took top honors as the overall grand champion. Hoge is the son of Mark and Katie Hoge. Overall reserve grand champion was awarded to Taylor Crouch, Maroa, Macon County. Crouch is the daughter of Cassie and Jeremy Crouch. Congratulations to all the young exhibitors at the Illinois State Fair for a job well done!


Illinois Farm Fact:

The state fair’s “Grand Champion Overall Master Showman” contest invites 4-H members ages 14-18 years to display their showmanship skills across three species — beef, sheep and swine. The 4-Hers are judged on their ability to handle each animal, knowledge of the species and animal husbandry, as well as overall showmanship skills. (Illinois Farm Bureau)