R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Farm bureau recalls pandemic beginnings

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

This March 14, 2020 photo shows a near-empty meat case at the Chillicothe, Illinois Kroger. The early days of the pandemic were marked by food and supply shortages at the retail level. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

This week: A coalition of Illinois ag and conservation groups want the governor to do more to encourage conservation practices on farms, and we have a look back at the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on agriculture. For more, please read on …


Ag groups to Pritzker: Use NLRS to catalyze new investment

SPRINGFIELD — A coalition of Illinois agricultural organizations is urging Gov. J.B. Pritzker to do more to challenge farmers to embrace activities to reduce greenhouse emissions. In a letter to the governor, American Farmland Trust and 13 other Illinois farm and conservation-related groups identified no-till and the planting of cover crops as two practices that should be encouraged to reduce GHG emissions associated with U.S. croplands. The groups believe that attention to these practices, matched to the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and other existing conservation infrastructure, can spur new investment and opportunity while fighting climate change.

“In Illinois, where over 23 million acres of cropland are available for the implementation of these practices, the potential benefits are substantial. In addition, this same set of practices when used at scale are key to achieving the state’s nutrient loss reduction goals — protecting clean water and restoring soil health,” the letter stated, in part. “Farmers across the state are already using their land for the development of renewable energy. They are implementing new, on-farm technologies to become more efficient while also protecting the integrity of our food system. Expanding their ability to use soils and agricultural practices as another tool for fighting climate change is the next step to utilizing all of our state’s assets to achieving our climate goals.

“We ask you to recognize the importance of these practices and to begin efforts to further utilize state resources and networks to promote climate resilience efforts on Illinois farmland. We are ready to assist in identifying goals and opportunities around this important work.”

AFT Midwest policy manager Max Webster said the groups want to ensure that Pritzker recognizes the opportunities for farmers to become part of the state’s response against climate change. In addition to AFT, the ag practices letter was authored by Illinois Corn, Prairie Rivers Network, Illinois Soybean Association, Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation and others. (AFT news)


Farm bureau recalls pandemic beginnings

BLOOMINGTON — A year ago, the world as we know it began to change in profound ways. Illinois Farm Bureau’s Kay Shipman recalled that COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures were announced just as the 2020 Live Local Conference was wrapping up at Embassy Suites in East Peoria, causing Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton to cancel an in-person March 10 engagement at the conference to launch a new statewide local food awareness initiative.

Shipman recalled how schools, restaurants and other “nonessential” businesses were shuttered in order to slow the spread of the virus. Also closed were state-run parks and recreational facilities, fishing lakes and trails.

“In issuing this order, Governor Pritzker continued his recognition of the agricultural industry as a fundamental building block to the state. To that end, Governor Pritzker’s Executive Order expressly considers the following to be an Essential Business and Operation: Food, beverage, and cannabis production and agriculture. Food and beverage manufacturing, production, processing, and cultivation, including farming, livestock, fishing, baking, and other production agriculture, including cultivation, marketing, production, and distribution of animals and goods for consumption; licensed medical and adult use cannabis dispensaries and licensed cannabis cultivation centers; and businesses that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for animals, including animal shelters, rescues, shelters, kennels, and adoption facilities,” stated the Illinois Department of Agriculture in a news release.

The unprecedented response to the virus served to underscore the importance of small-scale farmers, farmer’s markets and building food communities during times of public health emergencies, according to Live Local Conference organizer Raghella Scavuzzo of the Illinois Farm Bureau.


IDOA offering garden space

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Agriculture is seeking individuals or families who are interested in starting their own garden to raise fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. IDOA’s Community Garden, located on the infield of the Illinois State Fair Grandstand racetrack, features 200 garden plots available for public use. Of those plots, 100 are designated for organic gardening and the remaining 100 plots are reserved for traditional gardening.

“This year more than ever we have seen people take an interest in growing their own food,” said IDOA Acting Director Jerry Costello, in an IDOA news release. “We are excited to provide a large number of plots to allow residents, whether they are expert gardeners or just starting out to plant and harvest healthy, locally grown foods.”

Each plot rents for $20, with tillage provided for an additional $20. While the IDOA will supply water and compost free of charge, due to COVID-19 restrictions gardeners must provide their own tools. In addition, there will be no orientation meeting this year because of COVID-19 concerns. Those interested in participating in the 2021 growing season are encouraged to fill out a garden application located on the IDOA website https://www2.illinois.gov/sites/agr/Consumers/CommunityGarden/Pages/Documents-Forms.aspx. Completed applications and payments can be returned by mail or to the front desk of the Illinois Department Agriculture office on the fairgrounds.


USDA offering training on project planning

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The USDA is offering farmers and rural dwellers who wish to earn carbon credits through conservation practices the opportunity to receive training on writing Soil Health Management Plans. The virtual training, hosted by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service soil health division, will introduce soil health planning principles and applicable inventory and evaluation tools used in the planning process. Attendees will learn how to identify specific resource concerns on the land and develop practice recommendations to address those resource concerns. The training, which runs from April 27-29, is designed especially for Technical Service Providers and Certified Crop Advisers. There is a link to register for the event on the Ill. Sustainable Ag Partnership website.


Illinois Farm Fact:

According to John Patience, a swine nutritionist at Iowa State University, studies suggest at least 2-5 percent of feed is wasted on pig farms across the U.S. This waste can occur when feed falls into the pit or when feedstuffs are undigested. (National Pork Board)