R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: Program connects students to non-traditional ag jobs

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Lexington FFA members are pictured during the 2021 Farm Progress Show in Decatur. A new FFA program, Supervised Occupational Experience (SOE), is teaming FFA students with non-traditional agriculture jobs in small communities. (Photo by Tim Alexander)

Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford noted in his weekly weather update that though February may have gone out like a lamb, don’t expect the mild weather to continue. We’ve also got news about conservation funding coming to Illinois farmers and rural landowners through the federal Inflation Reduction Act. Please read on…


Climatological winter “out like a lamb”

URBANA – The month of  February and climatological winter went out like a lamb with another week of mild weather, Illinois State Climatologist Trent Ford noted in his Weekly Climate Review and Weather Forecast published by the University of Illinois Bulletin. 

“Average temperatures this week ranged from the high 30s in northern Illinois to the high 40s in southern Illinois, between 3 and 12 degrees above normal. While the official numbers will be released next week, the preliminary average temperature for February is about 4 degrees above normal and would put last month in the top 20 warmest on record statewide,” Ford said on March 3.  

Ford added that the mild combined January and February weather pushed climatological winter temperatures above normal as well. However, farmers shouldn’t expect the mild weather to continue until springtime, he said. 

“While most folks are probably ready for spring, unseasonable cold could slow the rapid advance of spring phenology, which could reduce spring freeze risk that is already elevated because of our mild winter. On the other hand, cooler temperatures will not help with wet soils; and on that topic – outlooks show likely wetter than normal conditions to persist through the middle of March. So, whether we think March came in like a lion or lamb, the first half of the month looks cold and wet,” according to Ford.  (Mar 03 | Weekly Climate Review & Weather Forecast.” University of Illinois Extension)


Landowners eligible for IRA conservation funding

CHAMPAIGN – Illinois USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) wants Illinois farmers, ranchers and landowners to be aware of newly-released Inflation Reduction Act funding dedicated to boosting acreage enrollment in two federal soil and water conservation programs. However, time is quickly running out for consideration for FY2023 funding. 

According to a March 1 news release, Illinois NRCS  is now accepting additional applications for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE) and Agricultural Land Easements (ACEP-ALE) through the IRA. Applications that meet eligibility and ranking criteria in ACEP-IRA targeted areas received by March 17– next week– will be considered for FY2023 funding.

ACEP-WRE incentivizes landowners to protect, restore and enhance wetlands by funding conservation easements on IRA priority land areas, which include regions identified with soils high in organic carbon that will reduce, capture, avoid, or sequester carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide emissions.

ACEP-ALE assists landowners by teaming them with entities interested in protecting agricultural grassland from conversion. IRA-ACEP-ALE prioritizes land that will most reduce, capture, avoid or sequester carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide emissions associated with land eligible for the program. Further, the program provides landowners with a permanent easement so cropland is permanently protected from conversion.

Under the IRA, federal conservation programs will receive a $19.5 billion boost beginning in FY2023 and continuing for the following four years. 


LaGrange lock project receives $49 million 

BLOOMINGTON – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) released its FY2023 Work Plan for allocating funds provided through the federal Energy & Water Development appropriations bill. The work plan includes $49.3 million (including $12,255,000 from the Illinois Waterways Fund) for preconstruction engineering and design for the 1,200-foot chamber at LaGrange Lock & Dam on the Illinois River. 

According to ISA Chairman Steve Pitstick, the LaGrange Lock & Dam project is the next project in queue under the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). “After many years of working with the Corps and stakeholders, it is a great sign for farmers and other river shippers to see this next major step towards realizing much needed improvements to waterways infrastructure,” said Pitstick. 

“With over 60 percent of our crop exported annually, Illinois is the top soybean exporting state in the U.S. Barge transport’s cost and environmental efficiency is unparalleled. The NESP program balances the need for new 1200-foot locks to increase operational certainty and develop sustainable ecosystems on the Illinois River,” he added. (ISA news)


FFA program connects students to non-traditional ag jobs

SPRINGFIELD – Illinois FFA’s new Supervised Occupational Experience (SOE) is helping rural communities fill needed job openings while preparing students for the larger workforce. A requirement of the program is that the part-time job the student chooses is related in some manner– no matter how small– to the agriculture industry. 

For example, a small town bank teller’s position could lead to a career in agriculture lending. Or, employment in nearly any retail store could lead to a position as a department manager at an agricultural equipment dealership. According to Mindy Bunselmeyer, Illinois FFA Center Executive Director, some Illinois FFA students have already begun “keeping books” detailing their work experiences as part of the SOE program, which, as with other important FFA occupational programs, allows FFA students to compete at section, district and state levels for awards. 

“We’re not losing our roots in agriculture, but we know rural communities have these (employment) needs during today’s job shortage crisis. There are good jobs for young kids in these communities that are not directly related to ag, but we still want these (FFA members) to have these skill sets and learn to become people that can contribute to their communities,” said Bunselmeyer, during a recent phone interview. 

Illinois FFA membership skyrocketed from 24,000 members in 2021 to more than 37,000 in 2022, according to Bunselmeyer, with many of the new FFA students hailing from urban school districts. The surge was a result of the Illinois General Assembly’s appropriation of $550,000 to pay the FFA fees for any Illinois student who takes agriculture class. The appropriation has been carried over in Governor JB Pritzker’s proposed FY2024 state budget. 


Illinois Farm Fact:

The Illinois Soybean Association (www.ilsoy.org) is accepting nominations for its “Illinois 20 Under 40 Farmer” designation until Friday, March 31.  


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