R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Illinois youth win top GROWMARK essay prizes

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Megan Waeltz of Illinois was named the national winner of the 2022 GROWMARK essay competition for FFA students. (GROWMARK/FFA photo)

The arctic-cold conclusion of December 2022 found many of us huddled indoors with family and pets, praying that we didn’t lose electricity. Many people, including those in rural Stark County, spent a portion of the last week without power or heat. We head into 2023 with our own prayer for our readers’ health and safety, and a few year-end news bits to share …


IFB pledges 2023 environmental support

BLOOMINGTON — The Illinois Farm Bureau is continuing its support for environmentally sustainable agriculture by pledging to fund a plethora of conservation-related programs in fiscal year 2023. To support Illinois farmers’ local nutrient loss reduction goals and pollinator habitat preservation, IFB will award $175,000 in grants to county Farm Bureaus for local projects, the IFB announced on Dec. 20.

“Farmers across the state are continuously investing in our natural resources to preserve soil health and conserve pollinators by creating robust habitats and educational outreach programs,” said Raelynn Parmely, IFB environmental program manager. “Illinois Farm Bureau is thrilled to continue supporting these important stewardship projects. This is a long-haul effort to solve a complex issue, but farmers are eager to continue building upon existing research and discover new strategies to apply to their fields and farm practices.”

IFB plans to distribute $150,000 in Nutrient Stewardship Grants to 23 CFBs that will collaborate on 17 projects to further Illinois water and soil conservation efforts. In addition, $25,000 in Pollinator Conservation Grants will go to 22 CFBs for 11 pollinator projects, including habitat creation and educational programming.

The funding supports IFB’s Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program for an eighth consecutive year. “The Nutrient Stewardship Grant Program is a cornerstone of our NLRS work here at Illinois Farm Bureau,” said Lauren Lurkins, IFB environmental policy director. “The program includes a wide range of projects that reflect the information needs and priorities of our county Farm Bureaus and farmer members. As the staff person leading the program, I am proud of the eight-year track record in investing more than $1 million (into) conservation projects across the state.”

2023 IFB grant projects include spring and summer field days to promote conservation practices and new research findings, creating educational resources, supporting new research partnerships, developing pollinator and cover crop demonstration plots, distributing pollinator seed, hosting watershed planning meetings and more, according to an IFB news release.


Ag Census underway; online reporting welcomed

SPRINGFIELD — With 2022 winding down, the Illinois field office for USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service is reminding farmers that it’s time to respond to their Census of Agriculture questionnaires. USDA mailed 2022 Census of Agriculture paper questionnaires to all known agriculture producers across the nation in December, along with an invitation to respond online. Any Illinois producer who did not respond online now has the option to complete the ag census at agcounts.usda.gov or by mail, according to Mark Schleusener, Illinois State Statistician for USDA-NASS.

“Census results will be used in many ways,” said Schleusener, in a news release. “Commodity organizations will use them to promote production and export of the products that their members produce. Businesses will use the results to decide where to locate new production and sales facilities. And legislators at the local, state, and federal level will use Census of Ag results to guide them as they do their jobs.”

Farm operations of all sizes which produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products in 2022, are included in the ag census. Input received from farmers informs decisions about policy, programs, rural development, research and more. Responding to the Census of Agriculture is required by law. The same law requires NASS to keep all information confidential. NASS will release the results of the ag census in 2024.

The deadline for farmers’ response is Feb. 6, 2023. To learn more about the Census of Agriculture, visit www.nass.usda.gov/agcensus. You can also contact the NASS Heartland Regional Field Office at (800) 551-1014 or nassrfohlr@usda.gov.


Illinois youth win top GROWMARK essay prizes

BLOOMINGTON — A pair of Illinois youth have won top honors in GROWMARK’s annual essay contest for FFA members. Megan Waeltz of Marissa, Illinois, has been named the national winner of the 2023 GROWMARK essay contest, the theme of which was “How can agricultural cooperatives stay relevant to future generations?” A student at Marissa High School and a member of the Marissa FFA Chapter, Waeltz will receive a $1,000 award from GROWMARK, and the Marissa FFA will receive $750.

In her essay, Waeltz said: “For example, co-ops help farmers build the future of their operation by providing products and services at lower costs, assuring that products produced on the farm are marketed and distributed, and offering tools essential to farm money management …  Agriculture cooperatives will always be relevant because they allow farmers to invest in the future of their operations.”

Four runners-up will each receive $500, while their FFA chapters will be awarded $300. One of the four runners-up is Thaddeus Bergschneider, of Franklin, Illinois. Bergschneider is a member of the Franklin FFA Chapter and a student at Franklin High School. Other runner-up winners hailed from Ohio and Virginia. Congratulations Megan and Thaddeus! (GROWMARK news)


‘Everything Local Conference’ examines local food systems

BLOOMINGTON — Local food and specialty crop growers are joining forces for Illinois’ largest conference focused on bolstering the local food supply chain. Farmers, local businesses and those passionate about local foods are invited to join the Illinois Specialty Growers Association, Illinois Farm Bureau and Illinois Farmers Market Association for the new From Food to Flowers: Everything Local Conference. The conference will be held from Jan. 11-13 at the Springfield Crowne Plaza.

To register or for more information, visit www.specialtygrowers.org/everythinglocal.


Illinois Farm Fact:

RFD News and Views wishes all of our readers a warm, healthy and Happy New Year!

R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Educator tackling farmers’ mental health