As a farmer, I’m proud of what I do. I love growing the food on which your family depends and know I and my fellow farmers play an extremely important role in the state’s rebounding economy.
But there seems to be a knowledge gap when it comes to agriculture and the important role it plays. In fact, most Illinois residents don’t realize agriculture is the no. 1 industry in terms of economic impact, bringing in more than $9 billion to the state each year and exporting almost $4 billion of goods annually.
What’s more, approximately one million Illinois workers are employed in the food and fiber system, ranking Illinois as one of the top states in dependency on agriculture. Illinois also is a leading state in agriculture-related industries.
To help close the gap, a new statewide group, the Food and Agricultural Roadmap for Illinois (FARM Illinois), is on a mission to keep the state’s agricultural advantages top-of-mind for residents and lawmakers alike. With backing from the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust, FARM Illinois will partner to encourage competitiveness and sustainable growth in food and agriculture throughout the state.
The effort has its roots with the Vision for Illinois Agriculture. The Vision for Illinois Agriculture had three main goals: to rank Illinois among the top three states in both food manufacturing and in crop and animal production, and to lead the nation in bio-based product technology and services. As it enters a new phase, with a new name, FARM Illinois includes the state’s top agricultural, business and economic leaders, including many from the Chicago business community. The group is tasked with developing and advocating for a comprehensive strategic plan focusing on the states’ economic leadership in global food security.
This new partnership, and the agricultural leaders behind it, will plan how the agriculture and food industries in Illinois can come together to promote the whole sector from farm to plate. What’s more, it could help tie all our agricultural assets downstate and Chicago food assets together.
FARM Illinois will be led by Dr. Robert Easter, president of the University of Illinois, and overseen by a high-level Leadership Council comprised of more than 25 experts and distinguished leaders with experience in agriculture, international markets, global food security, sustainability, conservation, community development and other related issues.
By spring of 2015, the group hopes to have a plan in place to help drive agricultural innovation, enable sustainable economic growth, encourage public-private partnerships and collaboration, develop a world-class workforce, address community development and nutrition needs, conserve and enhance natural resources, adapt to climate change pressures and enhance global and local food security.
The goals are lofty, but the potential rewards are endless. As a farmer myself, I know there are tremendous opportunities for Illinois’ agriculture as a global population and incomes rise. FARM Illinois will help examine our strengths, weaknesses, and our influences on agricultural production and distribution in the state so we can improve both our rural and urban economies. And that’s a win for everyone — not just farmers like me.