Illinois agriculture remains resilient amid year of challenges, uncertainty

RICHARD GUEBERT JR.

By RICHARD GUEBERT JR.
Former Illinois Farm Bureau President

Everyone can point to that year in their lives – the year when 23 inches of snow blanketed the state, the year an EF3 tornado ripped through a rural community, or the first holiday without mom or dad. There are some years that stick out more than most.

Last December, I called on everyone in Illinois agriculture to come together to make 2023 the “Year of the Farmer,” but for many Illinois farm families, this year was shaping up to be full of heartaches and hardships.

Tornadoes, hailstorms and derechos blasted much of the state in early spring and summer, exacerbating already challenging planting conditions and damaging homes. Severe thunderstorms producing dozens of devastating tornadoes tore through fields of farmland and rural communities.

Families lost their homes, and many were left with extreme damage to their livelihoods. Others lost family members, neighbors and friends.

Then drought hit nearly every corner of the state as farm production, equipment and land costs reached record highs, squeezing our pocketbooks. At the same time, global conflicts put a new focus on food security and the need to pass a modernized farm bill that meets the needs of all Americans.

Yet, in the face of uncertainty, our farm families remained resilient. Through thunderstorms, drought, inflation and global unrest, Illinois farmers dug in their heels and got to work producing 3 billion bushels of grain in the 2023 crop year. And, together, farmers across the country grew the largest corn crop on record, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Despite the challenges, Illinois farmers rose to the occasion. We started off the year strong with the Illinois Farm Families coalition launching the “We are the 96%” campaign during Super Bowl LVII to bring awareness to Illinois’ nearly 70,000 family-owned farms. This campaign showed consumers that our farms might look different than they did 100 years ago, but that’s because they’ve evolved so that multiple generations of families can continue farming together.

Illinois farmers also emphasized sustainability and conservation through embracing new technology and research. Nutrient stewardship field days put a focus on emerging strategies to protect water quality, and a new survey from the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, with support of Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) and several other agriculture organizations, released new data showing farmers’ progress in this space.

Last year, IFB debuted its Emmy-Award-winning documentary, “Sustaining Our Future: A Farm Family Story,” which told Ganschow Farms’ conservation story. IFB continues to highlight Illinois farmers’ stories, and I look forward to the coming launch of “Fields Apart: Rooted Together,” a three-part long-form video series showcasing shared characteristics, goals and challenges facing rural and urban farmers.

Life is full of challenges, both good and bad, and Illinois farm families know that it’s the many little things that can make a major impact. When I look back on all the progress we’ve made this year, I’m excited for the next chapter in Illinois agriculture.

Serving as president of IFB the past 10 years has been a true privilege. I’ve been very fortunate for the opportunity to steward this organization toward a bountiful future. I am proud to see my friends and colleagues Brian Duncan of Polo, Ogle County, and Evan Hultine of Princeton, Bureau County, elected to be IFB’s next president and vice president, respectively. I look forward to seeing the course they chart for IFB.

As I wrap up my final column on behalf of IFB, I’d like to thank our members, current and former county leaders and managers for their engagement and dedication to Illinois agriculture. I am also thankful for the IFB directors who currently serve and who have previously served for investing their time and energy in leading this organization. And, finally, my family for their infinite support and patience while I was away for this role.

It was really all of them who gave me this opportunity to serve, and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices they made. May Illinois agriculture continue to prosper in 2024 and beyond!

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