R.F.D. NEWS & VIEWS: State senator promoting farm crisis helpline

By Tim Alexander for Chronicle Media

Illinois State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, sponsored legislation that established a new farm crisis hotline for Illinois producers. (Scott Bennett photo)

In this election-free edition of RFD News & Views, livestock producers are now eligible for grants that help defray the expense of resupplying or purchasing a new emergency response trailer for use during a disease outbreak. We also have news of a new farm crisis hotline available to Illinois farmers, and info on who was awarded IDOA specialty crop funds. For this and more, please read on …


Emergency response trailer grant available

SPRINGFIELD — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caught many livestock and pig farmers without means to transport animals to herd depopulation sites and other locations. In addition, foreign animal disease outbreaks are always a threat to the industry and to America. Through a new grant program the Illinois Pork Producers Association is offering assistance to “anyone who wants to either resupply or purchase a new emergency response trailer for use in case of fire, truck rollover or disease outbreak,” according to an Oct. 29 IPPA news release.

One cost-share grant covers up to $2,500 worth of supplies for trailers already in service, while a second grant will cover up to $5,000 for new trailer development. However, participants must make their emergency response trailer available to any producer in need in their area of operation. Applicants must provide a general service area for the trailer’s use and where it will be stored, provide contact information and a list of trailer supplies and materials, and assume all liability for the trailer’s use.

A cost share request form must be returned to the IPPA office by Nov. 20, for approval. Items for the grant must be purchased and receipts submitted by Dec. 18. Contact the IPPA for more details.


Bennett promoting farm crisis helpline

SPRINGFIELD — A new telephone helpline will connect farmers to health professionals and services through the new Farm Family Resource Initiative, Illinois State Sen. Scott Bennett, D-Chapaign, announced last week. “Small farms are the core of our state’s economy, and farmers are on the front lines to provide food for our communities. The reality of this pandemic is that a new layer of stress has been put on farmers and farm families,” said Bennett, in a Senate Democrats’ news release. “The Farm Family Resource Initiative and helpline will give farmers additional support to help folks recognize and navigate these times.”

In addition to the helpline, the initiative offers ongoing outreach, education and training to rural partners working to improve the health and safety of farm families. Free webinars and training on psychological signs of stress and Mental Health First Aid offer program participants skill-building tools to meet the needs of rural clients and farmers.

The outreach program is initiated through the legislative leadership of Bennett as a joint pilot program of the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Services Development is leading the effort to build a statewide network of support and resources for Illinois farm families beginning with Christian, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Morgan and Sangamon counties.

“The Farm Family Resource Initiative is opening an avenue that is desperately needed in our farm communities,” said Jerry Costello II, IDOA Acting Director. “Farmers are resilient but the stress of farming requires help from time to time. I believe this helpline will provide farmers with a way to tackle these challenges head on.”

The new helpline (1-833-FARM-SOS) is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


Specialty crops funds allotted

SPRINGFIELD — Almost $600,000 was allotted to Illinois specialty crop growers through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program last week. The funding, available to producer groups, trade associations, nonprofits and universities, was split between ten projects intended to expand the availability of fresh, locally grown Illinois produce. The 2020 Specialty Crop Block Grant recipients were The Experimental Station, The Land Connection (central Illinois), Advocates for Urban Agriculture (Chicago), Southern Illinois University (for strawberry research; also for organic specialty lettuce), IAA Foundation and Ag in the Classroom, Freeport High School (student garden, greenhouse and orchard), Illinois Green Industry Association, Illinois Specialty Growers Association and the Illinois Farmer’s Market Association.

“Illinois may be best known for corn and soybeans, but we are a nationwide leader in specialty crops as well,” said Jerry Costello, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “These funds will help expand markets for our specialty growers, allowing them to maintain a viable industry.” (Illinois e-News release)


U of I revving up organic corn breeding

URBANA — While on the topic of specialty crops (see preceding news item), the University of Illinois announced that a $2 million grant from the USDA’s Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative will support improved sweet corn development tailored to the needs of the rapidly growing organic industry. The project builds on previous germplasm, methods and technologies developed by Martin Bohn, who is an associate professor at the U of I Department of Crop Sciences, and other OREI researchers to develop new varieties of sweet corn suitable for growth in organic conditions.

“Breeding corn takes time,” said Bohn, in an Oct. 28 news release from the U of I College of ACES. “Using traditional breeding approaches, it might take a decade or even more from the initial cross to a commercial hybrid. In our current OREI project, we were able to set up a solid base for an effective organic corn breeding program. Front and center are the relationships with organic farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.”

Specific goals of the project include improving levels of the essential nutrient methionine and the ability for organic sweet corn to withstand weed pressure. Another goal is to create a mechanism for organic corn to resist pollination by transgenic pollen floating in from commercial corn fields — a longstanding bane of organic sweet corn production.

More can be learned at www.aces.news.edu/.


Illinois Farm Fact:

Illinois devotes more than 100,000 acres of farmland for growing specialty crops, which produce nearly $393 million in sales for Illinois farmers. (IDOA)