R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Groups look to strengthen local markets

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Tammy Halterman, IFB District 5 (Cook, DuPage, Grundy, Kendall and Will) director, is leading an effort to create a statewide farm-to-families food network in order to keep food banks stocked with fresh, local food items. (IFB photo)

This week’s farm and rural grapevine offers news about President Biden’s steps to ensure small refinery waivers are no longer abused at the cost of U.S. corn growers. We also have reaction to Tom Vilsack’s second confirmation as U.S. Agriculture Secretary, and final numbers on Illinois’ 2020 hemp harvest. In addition, a group is seeking input to identify pathways towards creating a permanent farm-to-families food connection in Illinois. For more dirt, please plow ahead …


Biden’s EPA limits refinery waivers

BLOOMINGTON — Under President Joe Biden’s direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week signaled its support of a 14-month-old court decision intended to limit the number of small ethanol refinery volume obligation waivers the EPA can grant. The news was greeted with great relief by Illinois corn growers and Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr.

“Illinois Farm Bureau members across the state appreciate EPA’s decision upholding the Tenth Circuit Court ruling which greatly limits the number of small refinery exemptions. This demonstrates the Biden Administration will work to preserve the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard and protect the future of clean, renewable fuel and its positive impact on our farmers,” said Guebert in a prepared statement. “Several of our members traveled to Michigan in October 2019 to testify in support of ethanol and to minimize the proliferation of undue small refinery waivers. Yesterday’s decision is an affirmation to those members that their voices and others across the nation did not go unheard.”

Former President Donald Trump disregarded the 2020 circuit court decision and issued dozens of small refinery waivers during his time in office, including two on his final day in power. These actions violated the Renewable Fuels Standard and resulted in millions less bushels of corn being consumed for ethanol and ethanol co-products, according to the Renewable Fuels Association.


Guebert lauds Vilsack confirmation

BLOOMINGTON — During a busy week in agriculture, Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. issued the following statement lauding the U.S. Senate’s nomination of Tom Vilsack as the 32nd Secretary of Agriculture:

“Illinois Farm Bureau congratulates former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on his confirmation by the U.S. Senate. IFB members and Secretary Vilsack are in alignment on several key issues, including ensuring farmers are set to benefit from a voluntary and incentive-based carbon program, expanding the use of biofuels, mitigating impacts of COVID-19 on the meat processing industry and rebounding from the pandemic. Our members also appreciate his commitment to achieving price transparency in livestock markets. We remain optimistic that Secretary Vilsack, with his previous experience in the role and clear understanding of farm policy, is a strong choice to lead the USDA and its farm programs. We look forward to working with him and the agency.”

Vilsack previously served as USDA secretary under President Barack Obama. He was approved as Biden’s ag secretary by a 92-7 vote in the Senate. (IFB news)


State hemp harvest declines in 2020

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois hemp growers reported 2,734 acres planted in 2020, resulting in 2,392 acres harvested, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. This is down from the more than 2,800 acres harvested in 2019, which IDOA Division of Cannabis Manager David Lakeman blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The hemp industry, just like many others, was hit by the pandemic,” he said. “Workforce safety challenges, pandemic-related impacts on the market, and some initial issues with processing all contributed to a more difficult year for the hemp industry. Despite these challenges, the Illinois hemp industry continued to demonstrate resilience and strength. IDOA remains committed to being a good partner to the industry, and we look forward to the 2021 growing season.”

The IDOA is now accepting applications for the 2021 hemp growing season. Farmers interested in growing or processing hemp should visit https://agrlicensing.illinois.gov/Industrial_Hemp/. (Illinois e-News)


IDOA continuing online pesticide training

SPRINGFIELD — To date, around 4,000 applicators have taken advantage of the ongoing Illinois Department of Agriculture-University of Illinois online Pesticide Safety Education Program. In lieu of traditional in-person pesticide training, the PSEP offers supplemental online training courses to prepare applicators and operators for their exams. All exams are proctored through an exam proctoring service to be compliant with federal certification and licensing guidelines, according to an IDOA news release. For more information visit https://extension.illinois.edu/psep.


Groups look to strengthen local markets

BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Farm Bureau, Feeding Illinois and the University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute have launched the Farm to Food Bank Feasibility Study, and are seeking farmer and consumer input. The group is asking livestock producers, dairy farmers, producers of small grains, specialty crop growers and others in the food chain to submit ideas for building a permanent farm-to-families food infrastructure in Illinois.

“We have a unique opportunity to identify and build a long-term market in which Illinois farmers can supply and grow food directly for Illinois food banks,” said Tammy Halterman, IFB District 5 director and board representative to the Illinois Specialty Growers Association. “Food banks purchase food — they don’t just take donations. What if they could buy food right here in Illinois, supporting our growers and providing good, nutritious food to those in need? What if Illinois farmers could help design the infrastructure to make this possible? We gain a new market, and our neighbors have reliable and diverse food products when they need them.”

The initiative was inspired by the success of USDA’s Farms to Families Food Box Program, which utilized local and regional producers to package and distribute some 140 million boxes of food since May 2020. “That left many in our strong farming industry in Illinois wondering, ‘Can we create a more permanent infrastructure to support this connection?’” said Halterman. “The first step is the survey. After the first phase of data collection, we’ll be working with our partners to set up some regional focus groups with our members.” The survey can be completed online at www.surveys.illinois.edu/sec/1887185315.


Illinois Farm Fact:

The new Midwestern Hemp Database can be accessed at www.go.illinois.edu/HempDatabase.