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High & Dry

Drought of 2012 touches all agricultural sectors

Legacy of the Land Farm programs ensure opportunities for the next generation Illinois Department of Agriculture // // 2013




7 Welcome Letter 8 Illinois Agriculture Overview 12 High & Dry Drought of 2012 touches all agricultural sectors

15 Quality Products

Bureau of Agricultural Products Inspection regulates feed, seed and fertilizer

Animals & Livestock 16 The Finest Swine

Illinois’ pork industry leads the country in breeding and genetics

19 International Appeal

Illinois swine goes global with the annual pork tour

20 Bouncing Back

Illinois beef producers keep a positive outlook despite the 2012 drought

24 Thinking Outside the Jug

Illinois dairy farmers secure export markets, create branded products

16 //

// 3



illinois Agriculture 2013 Crops & Plants

Agricultural Education

28 Computing Crops

36 A Living Agricultural Legacy

Spirit Farms embraces the latest technology to grow corn and soybeans

31 Where Do Illinois Corn and Soybeans Go?

Learn the many uses of these important crops

32 Growing Success

Illinois fruit and vegetable farms develop new varieties through grant programs

Food & Wine 34 Purpose-Driven Purchases Residents and retailers encouraged to buy, sell local

Illinois County Fair Queen carries on her family’s farming tradition

39 Forever Farmland

Centennial, Sesquicentennial farm programs honor agricultural longevity

40 Gettin’ Down on the Farm

Illinois farms educate visitors in entertaining ways

45 Growing Together

Opportunities for community gardens teach consumers about agriculture

46 More than Fair

Economic impact from state’s fairgrounds felt throughout the year

On the Cover Beef cattle, like these owned by Lowderman Cattle Company in Macomb, represent a major agricultural industry in Illinois. PHOTO BY Fr ank Ordonez




ILLINOIS AGRICULTURE 2013 Edition, Volume 2

journal communications inc. Content Director Jessy Yancey Content Coordinator Rachel Bertone Project Manager Lisa Scramlin Assistant Project Manager Hannah Patterson Proofreading Manager Raven Petty Contributing Writers John mcbryde, blair thomas, joanie stiers, jessica mozo Senior Graphic Designers stacey allis, Laura Gallagher, Jake shores, Kris Sexton, Vikki Williams Graphic Designers kacey passmore, Matt west Senior Photographers Jeff Adkins, Brian McCord Staff Photographers Wendy jo barr, Michael Conti, Frank ordonez, Michael Tedesco Color Imaging Technician Alison Hunter Ad Production Manager Katie Middendorf Ad Traffic Assistants Krystin Lemmon, Patricia Moisan Chairman Greg Thurman President/Publisher Bob Schwartzman Executive Vice President Ray Langen Senior V.P./Operations Casey Hester Senior V.P./Agribusiness Publishing KIm Newsom Holmberg V.P./External Communications Teree Caruthers V.P./Agribusiness Sales Rhonda Graham V.P./Sales Herb Harper Controller Chris Dudley Accounts Receivable Coordinator Diana Guzman Sales Support Project Manager Sara Quint IT Director Daniel Cantrell Web Creative Director Allison Davis Photography Director Jeffrey S. Otto Creative Services Director Christina Carden Creative Technology Analyst Becca Ary Distribution Director Gary Smith Integrted Media Manager Deborah Lewis

We salute IllInoIs’ farmers for producIng safe, qualIty food for thIs generatIon and the next! To learn more about our non-GMO programs and premiums for white and yellow corn and soybeans, call or email us!

Illinois Agriculture is published annually by Journal Communications Inc. and is distributed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. For advertising information or to direct questions or comments about the magazine, contact Journal Communications Inc. at (615) 771-0080 or by email at

Illinois department of agriculture: Director Robert F. Flider Chief of Staff Jared Thornley Bureau Chief, Marketing & Promotion Jennifer Tirey Special thanks to all Department staff for their support. For more information about the Illinois Department of Agriculture, contact: Jennifer Tirey, Bureau Chief 801 Sangamon Ave., Springfield, IL 37067 (217) 782-8146 or by email at No public funds were used in the publishing of this magazine. © Copyright 2013 Journal Communications Inc., 725 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067, (615) 771-0080. All rights reserved. No portion of this magazine may be reproduced in whole or in part without written consent. Member Member

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The special tablet edition is designed especially for use on iPads and other tablet devices.



Dear Friend of Agriculture,

Farmers in Illinois have become veterans of unpredictability. It serves as a source of their resilience, year-in and year-out. They plan and they adapt. And they make use of the best research and technology available to ensure that there will be a crop to harvest. Despite the challenges that farmers face, one thing will remain constant: The Illinois Department of Agriculture will continue to find ways to expand markets for Illinois’ agricultural products. Agriculture and food are big business here, and we’d like to build on that strong foundation. Illinois leads all states in food processing sales, with $180 billion in annual sales, which support more than 150,000 Illinois jobs. Our agency will also continue to support Gov. Pat Quinn’s goal of doubling Illinois exports. Nationally, Illinois is ranked fifth in food processing export sales, with annual exports of $3.1 billion, and third in exports of agricultural commodities, with sales of $8.2 billion. On the local front, our agency sees the opportunity to improve our local economy by partnering with supermarkets and producers to promote Illinois products. If each family in Illinois spends $10 per week on Illinois products, it is estimated the economic benefit to Illinois will be $2.4 billion annually. Although agriculture remains a bright spot for Illinois’ economy, it is important to recognize that farmers are small business people whose sophistication and business acumen grows each year. Unpredictable weather conditions and price fluctuations make it imperative that Congress pass a farm bill that ensures farmers have the risk management tools they need to succeed. Without the availability of these tools (crop insurance), many farmers could have succumbed financially to the 2012 drought. When farmers succeed, our economy succeeds. We all have a stake in their success. Many successes are highlighted in this second edition of Illinois Agriculture magazine. I would like to thank the advertisers and sponsors for making this possible. We are proud of this publication, and I know our agricultural leaders, institutions, organizations and businesses join us in advocating on behalf of Illinois’ vibrant, diverse and proud agricultural heritage. Sincerely,

Robert F. Flider Director Illinois Department of Agriculture @ILAgMarkets




Illinois Agriculture An overview of the state’s diverse agriculture industry Dive deep into Illinois ’ agriculture industry, and you’ll find out that it is much more than crops and commodities. The Prairie State takes business seriously, whether it is educating consumers about the hard work of Illinois farm families and where their food comes from, or continuing its worldwide reign as a leader in swine breeding and genetics. The state boasts more than 74,600 farms that average 357 acres each. These farms work to produce some of Illinois’ top agricultural products, such as corn, soybeans, pork, wheat and cattle. The state’s fertile soil gives farmers room to grow a variety of other crops too, including oats, sorghum, fruits and vegetables, and specialty crops like buckwheat, ginseng, popcorn and mushrooms. Approximately 1,500 different types of soil can be found in the state, making it so fruitful that almost 90 percent of Illinois agricultural land can be used to raise crops. Illinois leads the pack in agribusiness as well, and the state is a front-runner 8


illinois agriculture

in industries such as soybean processing, meat packing, dairy manufacturing, service industries and foreign exports, which play a significant role in the Illinois economy. In 2011, soybean exports had a value of $2.51 million, which represented 30.4 percent of all agricultural exports. Corn followed suit with 28 percent of total exports, and grain products rang in at 7.4 percent of total exports. Consumers are becoming more involved than ever in the state’s agriculture industry, with readily available agritourism destinations, community gardening and an evergrowing interest in buying local. This interest is backed by the state’s legislation, which encourages consumers to purchase Illinoisproduced food and products through the Buy Illinois Challenge program. Despite setbacks from weather challenges, including the drought of 2012, Illinois’ farmers and agricultural leaders continue to push forward, growing in their diverse and important industry.

About 1.5 million Illinois workers are employed in the food and fiber system, making it one of the top states in dependency on agriculture.

Farm cash receipts for 2011 totaled approximately

$19.8 billion 48 percent of farm operators consider farming to be their principal occupation.

What’s Online Access more agriculture facts at

Illinois is one of the

Top 5

states in cash income and crop cash receipts.

Corn, soybeans and wheat account for more than 90% of the cultivated acres for field crops.

The average Illinois farmer’s age is


Illinois’ climate is typically continental, with cold winters and warm summers. It has excellent soil and well-distributed annual precipitation of 32 to 48 inches.






Illinois usually ranks second in corn production in the nation.

As of 2010, Illinois ranked eighth in the nation in grainsorghum production.

Illinois usually ranks fourth in hog production in the nation.

Illinois usually ranks second in soybean production in the nation.

As of 2010, Illinois ranked third in the nation in summer potato production.



Illinois Agricultural Education

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bars More than 90 percent of the nation’s pumpkins are grown in Illinois.

Connecting today’s students to careers in agriculture and natural resources industries … and more!


Ingredients Pumpkin Bars 1 cup oil 1 cup sugar 4 eggs 2 cups canned pumpkin 2 teaspoons cinnamon 1 teaspoon baking soda 2 teaspoons baking powder 2 cups flour Cream cheese frosting 8 ounces cream cheese 2 cups powdered sugar 2 teaspoons milk 1 teaspoon vanilla 6 tablespoons butter

Instructions 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together oil, sugar, eggs, pumpkin, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and flour. 2. Grease and flour a jelly roll pan. 3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool. 4. For frosting, combine ingredients and mix well. Spread over cooled bars.

Fiber Fuel Fun “The agricultural, food and renewable natural resources sectors of the U.S. economy will generate an estimated 54,400 annual openings for individuals with baccalaureate or higher degrees between 2010 and 2015.”



Illinois FFA makes a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

Illinois Postsecondary Agricultural Student (PAS) Organization provides opportunities for individual growth, leadership and career preparation.



Find more recipes at



illinois agriculture

Printed with funds from the Agricultural, Food and Natural Resources (AFNR) STEM Learning Exchange, which is a part of the Illinois Pathways, a new and innovative State of Illinois led STEM education initiative designed to support college and career readiness for all students. The AFNR STEM Learning Exchange is funded through USDE Race to the Top in the amount of $430,000.

Top Agriculture Products Illinois’ top commodities, based on cash receipts corn Illinois’ top crop is used mainly for ethanol production, animal feed and agricultural exports. In 2011, the state produced 1.95 billion bushels of the crop, with a value of $12.3 billion. Corn accounted for 54.5 percent of total farm cash receipts in 2011.


dairy products Illinois is home to more than 780 dairy farms. On average, a dairy cow will produce six gallons of milk per day, totaling 2,190 gallons per year. That milk from Illinois’ dairies is processed into fluid milk, cheese, ice cream, butter and many other dairy-based products.

Soybeans are the No. 2 crop for the Prairie State and its No. 1 agricultural export. Farmers produced 416 million bushels of soybeans in 2011, and the crop accounted for 30.4 percent of total agricultural exports. Illinois soybeans are used in everything from animal feed to printer ink.



Fruits and vegetables

The No. 3 commodity for the state, Illinois pork production ranks fourth nationally. In 2011, the state’s swine farmers marketed 11.58 million hogs, and the commodity represented 7.2 percent of total farm cash receipts. Illinois’ pork industry is the top customer for Illinois soybeans.

wheat In 2011, Washington County produced the most of the state’s No. 4 commodity, bringing in a total of 4 million bushels. The state produces soft red winter wheat, which is used in products such as breads, cereals, crackers, allpurpose flour, pet foods and glues.

In 2011, Illinois produced 1.58 million tons of all hay, including alfalfa. The value of production totaled $ 219.4 million, significantly contributing to the state’s economy. Most of the state’s hay is used as livestock feed.

Illinois’ fertile soil allows its farmers to produce a number of fruits and vegetables, with the top crops being apples, peaches, sweet corn, snap beans and pumpkins. In fact, Illinois is one of the leading states in the U.S. for pumpkin production, which brought $21.9 million to the state in 2011.

oats Illinois farmers typically plant their oat crop in March and harvest in late summer or early fall. For many years, oats were used as a rotation crop, but farmers have started utilizing corn and soybeans more for this purpose.

cattle Hilly areas in the northwestern and southern regions of Illinois that aren’t as suitable for growing crops provide great pasture for cattle. Beef cattle, the state’s No. 5 commodity, can be found on 23 percent of Illinois’ farms. The beef industry brought over $ 523 million to the state economy in 2011.

sheep Illinois had 57,000 head of sheep on hand at the end of 2011. That same year, the state produced 305,000 pounds of wool, with a total production value of $140,000.




High Dry Drought of 2012 touches all agricultural sectors 12


illinois agriculture

Courtesy of ILlinois Farm Bureau

For all the tension it

The 2012 drought, which was most severe in the southern part of the state, greatly affected the corn industry.

created and the damage it caused, the drought of 2012 was one that Illinois farmers and others in agriculture would like to forget. But for the lessons it taught and the guidance it gave for the future, the 2012 drought will be forever remembered. “It was probably one of the worst droughts we experienced in the past 50 years-plus,” says Jim Kaitschuk, director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association, an agricultural trade group that represents pork producers throughout Illinois. The drought, most severe in the southern part of the state, had an effect on all sectors of agriculture. Livestock production was reduced, as were yields from row crops including corn, soybeans and others. Transportation issues reached a critical level late in the year when water levels dropped on the Mississippi River and irrigation by farmers significantly increased. In short, the drought had a tremendous impact on the agricultural economy.

How the Drought Affected Agriculture


Beef Cattle




Pork production for 2013 is projected to be around 22.9 million pounds, which is well below what it was in 2012 and 2011. Heat stress and high feed prices caused many producers to sell some of their animals to ease financial burdens. This led to smaller swine herds and higher pork prices for consumers.

Moderate or greater drought affected 78 percent of cattle production. Beef producers were indirectly impacted by the drought as a result of increased livestock feed costs, primarily grain and hay prices, which forced farmers to accept lower prices for their animals from the feed lot.

The drought created tough growing conditions for hay. Approximately 63 percent of land used for hay production was affected by the drought and resulted in poor yields. This caused much higher prices for farmers, who had to pay up to three times the normal price just to feed their livestock.

Corn prices increased exponentially due to lowered production. Illinois corn yields were around 105 bushels per acre in 2012, a significant drop from the 2011 yields of 157 bushels per acre. Farmers in central and southern Illinois suffered the biggest losses, with some not being able to harvest at all.

The water levels on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers became too low for barge operators to carry heavy loads. Now, fewer barges can travel the river at once to successfully navigate the shallower waters. These limitations have caused increased river freight rates for shipping commodities.

Source: Governor’s Task Force Report on the Drought of 2012



Courtesy of IlLinois Farm Bureau

Illinois’ corn crop suffered because of the drought of 2012, with prices increasing exponentially due to lowered production.

Livestock and Crops Affected

“We saw extremely high feed prices as a result,” Kaitschuk says. “In terms of input cost on the feed side, (the drought) obviously had a tremendous impact on viability for operations across the state.” Cattle and dairy farmers had to buy more hay than usual for feeding due to pastures drying up early in the season, and some farmers experienced a shortage of well water. As a result, some farmers were forced to sell off a portion of their herds. “What it really did was cause producers to be extremely innovative in terms of what they could create for feed,” Kaitschuk says. To help producers with sales, Gov. Pat Quinn developed a pork



illinois agriculture

purchasing program that increased state purchases of pork produced in Illinois by 30 percent. The quantity and quality of row crops were also affected by the drought. The Governor’s Task Force report on the drought showed that statewide 2012 yields were 105 bushels per acre for corn and 43 for soybeans, compared to 2011 yields of 157 bushels for corn and 47.5 for soybeans. The 2012 corn crop has an increase of aflatoxin, a mycotoxin produced by a fungus that can colonize on the corn kernels, causing ear rot. Aflatoxin is a known carcinogen. The issue prompted the IDOA to request a waiver to blend aflatoxin contaminated corn from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Limited Movement

Transportation was jeopardized in the fall of 2012 when levels on the Mississippi River dropped significantly, especially in November, when grain products were being shipped downriver and fertilizer was coming upriver. Of particular concern were rock pinnacles in the river at the Thebes and Grand Tower area, according to Kevin Schoeben, deputy director of the Office of Planning and Programming for the Illinois Department of Transportation. He credits Gov. Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin for working diligently to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to remove the rocks so barges could maneuver through that area of the Mississippi. “The Corps of Engineers had plans to remove pinnacles in late

Courtesy of ILlinois Farm Bureau

January to early February (of 2013), meaning the river would have shut down on Dec. 21,” Schoeben says. “Those projections were unacceptable, so Sen. Durbin and Gov. Quinn encouraged the Corps to get the pinnacles removed in December.” Those in agriculture are looking at experiences from the 2012 drought to make sure they’re prepared for the next one. The governor’s task force report makes several recommendations. “Farmers may want to seek out disaster assistance programs before the next drought,” says Steve Chard of the IDOA’s Bureau of Land and Water Resources, who was a member of the task force. “It’s always good to be armed with information before that kind of event. “And livestock producers may want to think about deepening their existing wells, or digging a new well, to have a sufficient water supply prior to the next drought.” – John McBryde

The 2012 corn crop had an increase of aflatoxin, a damaging spore that occurs in dry conditions.

Quality Products

Bureau of Agricultural Products Inspection regulates feed, seed and fertilizer


n the throes of a crippling drought, the responsibilities of the Illinois Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Products Inspection proved more important than ever. “We make sure the consumer is getting what they pay for, whether it’s fertilizer for their garden or food for pets or livestock. Our main focus is to protect the consumer, whether it is on the farm or in town,” says Jerry Kirbach, bureau chief. Every year the bureau conducts a statewide survey during the corn harvest to check for the presence of aflatoxin and fumonisin. In 2012, the survey revealed a widespread

presence of aflatoxin at elevated levels due the drought. Since aflatoxin is a known carcinogen, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established guidelines that restrict the level of any aflatoxin contaminated feed ingredient that can be fed to an animal based upon the specie as well as the maturity stage. These levels are measured in parts per billion. The most restrictive level is for dairy production to protect all products used for human consumption. The milk plants test all incoming product for any

presence of aflatoxin and if found the milk will be rejected. The bureau applied to FDA for a waiver to allow grain facilities to blend aflatoxin contaminated corn. The application was approved in December and required any grain facility handling this corn to certify they would meet all FDA guidelines for grain shipped. “This allowed utilization of the affected corn while offering additional assurance to the livestock producer of the feed products being purchased,” Kirbach says. – Rachel Bertone



animals & Livestock



illinois agriculture

The Finest Swine Illinois’ pork industry leads the country in breeding and genetics Photography by Frank Ordonez

For more than 3,400 producers raising more than 4 million pigs and contributing to an industry that generates nearly $2 billion each year in economic impact, the success of Illinois’ pork business largely comes down to the real estate. “It’s all about location,” says Mike Grohmann, who runs Cedar Ridge Swine Seedstock in Red Bud with his five brothers. “Illinois is centrally located in the Corn Belt for access to corn and soybeans for feed, in close proximity to the Midwest’s packing industry so we save time and resources getting animals to the processing plant, right on the Mississippi River, and have a livestock terminal for international export at Chicago’s O’Hare airport,” Grohmann says. “Our location helps every part of this business.” High on the Hog

It’s a business that ranks Illinois fourth in the U.S. in pork production and makes the state a leader in swine breeding and genetics.

The state’s central location and proximity to feed and packing sources, as well as domestic and international export avenues allows the industry to thrive. But Illinois farmers aren’t only concerned with the number of their livestock, but the quality of their pigs as well. “It’s about improving the animals,” Grohmann says. “For us, that means improving the number of pigs, their structural soundness, lean muscle content, growth rate, longevity, feed efficiency and pork quality. And we do that through genetics.” Established in 1954, Cedar Ridge is one of the largest family-owned, purebred breeding stock operations in the country. It is currently run by Mike and his brothers Freddie, Randy, Stan, Dennis and Bob, and breeds Landrace, Hampshire, Yorkshire and Duroc hogs for sale and export across the U.S. and internationally. “In this business, we rely on one another within the industry,” Grohmann says. “Our role is to improve the genetics of these animals so that we are selling a better product to producers.”

Bob Grohmann runs the Cedar Ridge Swine Seedstock hog breeding facility with his five brothers.



Taking Stock

Cedar Ridge in Red Bud, one of the largest familyowned purebred swine breeding stock operations in the nation, breeds Landrace, Hampshire, Yorkshire and Duroc hogs for sale across the nation and internationally. The farm has approximately 2,000 breeding sows and 100 herd boars.



illinois agriculture

New technology and research are key to improving the quality of Illinois swine stock. In 2001, Prairie State Semen in Champaign, who supplies fresh and frozen semen and vaccines to producers across the U.S. and to 15 countries, was the first company to successfully clone herd boars from adult founders using somatic cell nuclear transfer. “Our purebred boar lines have laid the foundation in a large number of different breeds and have greatly influenced the breeding stock in operations throughout Illinois and across the country,” says Jon Fisher, president of Prairie State Semen. Because of its prime location, Illinois has always been a leader in supplying producers with parent and grandparent stock, Fisher says. “Illinois has always had a large demand for their genetics because of their ability to perform and make the new livestock owners successful in their operation,” Fisher says. “Many of the greatest purebred herds have been carefully selected for and

maintained utilizing the keen eye and talent of various breeders.”

Pigs of the Future

At the University of Illinois, researchers are constantly looking for improvements and advancements in farming genetics. Dr. Anna Dilger, assistant professor in meat science and muscle biology, and Dr. Jon Beever, professor in genetics, genomics and bioinformatics, are working on a project examining the genetic modification of myostatin to enhance feed efficiency and lean carcass yield in pigs. Dr. Rob Knox, associate professor in reproductive biology, is working on improving the fertility and efficiency from the use of cryopreserved boar sperm from genetically superior sires. For all of the advancements in feed, frozen semen and cloning technologies, there are always more doors to be opened, Fisher says. “There will always be something new, something more we can do to improve this business.” – Blair Thomas

Illinois Pork Tour

International Appeal

Illinois swine goes global with the annual pork tour


onnecting producers and consumers from Illinois, across the U.S. and internationally can be as simple as getting them all in the same place at the same time. Once a year, the Illinois Department of Agriculture sponsors the Illinois Pork Tour, an opportunity for producers across the state to connect with pork industry executives, buyers and others in the international industry. “Pork production and livestock production in general can be very confining,” says Bobby Dowson of the Illinois Department of Agriculture. “A lot of producers stay on their farms and take care of daily business many more hours than an eight-to-five job. The World Pork Expo is a place where domestic and international producers make time to see the latest in technologies to better their operations back home.” Held in conjunction with the annual World Pork Expo each year, the Illinois Pork Tour brings in potential buyers from around the world and showcases the Illinois swine industry – ranked fourth nationally – and its products, including breeding pigs, semen, feed ingredients, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, equipment and other services such as hedging and trading commodities. “It is very time and cost effective,” Dowson says. “The Illinois Pork Tour is important to Illinois swine operations and agribusinesses because we bring the buyers to them. We have averaged nearly $750,000 in sales from each annual tour in the last 20 years.”


The Illinois Pork Tour also provides producers the opportunity to share ideas and learn from one another. “Some small improvement or different way of doing something can improve a swine operation immensely,” Dowson says. Prairie State Semen has participated in the tour for nearly two decades , and has benefited from the connections and from the exchange of knowledge with visitors to its Champaign breeding and genetics facility. “We have provided basic knowledge of purebred genetics, modern laboratory practices and cloning over the past 18 years,” says Jon Fisher, president of Prairie State Semen.


Maintaining positive relationships with trading partners is critical for the future of the pork industry,

Dowson says. “Over the past several years, various questions have been raised about modern agriculture and current production practices. The pork industry believes that it can strongly benefit by demonstrating how they care for their animals, operate their farms and positively impact their local communities.” The pork tours have helped several farms and agribusinesses, both large and small, export products internationally. Prairie State Semen has seen an increase in sales to Mexico from participants on the tour, and has exported about $12,000 in semen to one distributor in Central Mexico in the past two years for artificial insemination, Dowson says. “Opening our doors helps the Illinois Department of Agriculture put on a good tour, which helps everyone involved in the long-run,” Fisher says. “We had a $7,500 frozen semen order from last year’s tour, which made me even more grateful for that opportunity.” – Blair Thomas



Animals & livestock

Bouncing Back

Illinois beef producers keep a positive outlook despite the 2012 drought Photography by Frank Ordonez

During the 2012 drought, there was a 20 to 30 percent increase in cattle values.

Over the past five years, inventory of cattle and calves has ranged from 150,000 to 215,000 head.

For Monte Lowderman of

Lowderman Cattle Company in Macomb, the importance of family keeps the business alive and running. “If it weren’t for our cattle business, we would probably be spread across the country,” says Lowderman, one of three brothers that runs the company with their parents. The tragic loss of a younger brother brought the family closer together, which led to them significantly growing their business. The operation raises Hereford cattle and has been praised as Breeder of the Year for the past two years. The Illinois Beef Association recently named it the Seedstock Producer of the Year. The family is also very active in the auction business. “Our love is definitely in the cattle industry,” Lowderman says. Although the family faced challenges during the drought of 2012, Brent Lowderman, the brother in charge of the hay and pasture side

of the company, says they are recovering nicely. The company grows their own forage, but by June and mid-July of 2012, their source was cut in half from the previous year. They sourced lots of hay from out of state, and Brent visited neighboring farms to buy cornfields for feed. They did have to use more fertilizer than usual for this year’s hay crop, to help boost nutritional value. While failing crops stole the headlines in 2012, farmers raising cattle felt just as much pain. The historic Midwestern drought dried cattle pastures and diminished hay supplies while escalating prices of feedstuffs, such as corn and soybean meal. “The beef industry wasn’t only impacted by the shortage of feed – a large part of it was a shortage of water,” says Lyle Flach with the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Flach regularly attends livestock

Brent Lowderman oversees the hay and pasture side of his family’s farm, Lowderman Cattle Company.



illinois agriculture



auctions and provides reports for the department and USDA and IDOA Market News Service. During the 2012 drought, he witnessed a 20 to 30 percent increase in cattle values and an influx of cows at market. High feed costs and drought-induced hay shortages continued to liquidate herds into spring 2013. But at the same time, feed costs discouraged expansion and softened prices, he says. Historically speaking, Illinois’ cattle inventory is low and rebuilding. The National Agricultural Statistics Service reports the inventory of cattle and calves over the last five years ranged from 150,000 to 215,000 head in Illinois. This echoes numbers last seen in the late 1920s.

The story proves similar nationwide, where the inventory as of Jan. 1, 2013, was the lowest since 1950. The industry expresses optimism looking forward with hopes that crop and forage production will return to normal. In fact, a resurfacing trend may add finished cattle to Illinois’ fame as a cow-calf state. Most cattle farmers own a cow herd and sell weaned calves to feedlots. That trend started more than 20 years ago, when a model encouraged shipping calves and feed resources out west to a drier climate, says Reid Blossom of the Illinois Beef Association. Today, he sees a shift. More cattlemen in Illinois and throughout the Midwest feed calves to market weight. They use

locally grown grains and ethanol co-products to do it. “Where they’re manufacturing ethanol fuel, we can get an extended use out of that corn product in the form of dry or wet distiller’s grains,” Blossom says. Flach estimates one-third to onehalf of cattle feed is in the form of ethanol co-products. Many cattlemen live within an hour of an ethanol plant, making this lower-cost feed readily available. Illinois’ ingredients of widespread corn production, land suitable for pastures and educated cattlemen form the recipe for a successful beef industry, Blossom says. Farmers also have access to a variety of markets, including weekly livestock auctions,

There is some growth occurring within the beef industry in Illinois, and it’s happening in the form of cattle feeding coming back to the Midwest.

– Reid Blossom

Lowderman Cattle Company breeds Herefords on their farm in Macomb. They’ve been honored on the state level for their breeding and seedstock production.



illinois agriculture

online cattle sales and proximity to several processing facilities in the state. “I think a big challenge for us is to recoup a lot of those animals we’ve lost over the drought the last couple years,” Blossom says. “While Illinois is no doubt home to the best farmland in the country without irrigation, we also have a lot of land with a marginal soil type and not conducive to row crops. Cattle are a perfect fit for those acres.” – Joanie Stiers

What’s Online Find more stats about Illinois’ beef cattle industry at

During the drought, the Lowdermans had to find new sources for hay. They have since recovered enough to once again feed their cattle using hay they grow.



animals & livestock

Thinking Outside the Jug Illinois dairy farmers secure export markets, create branded products



illinois agriculture

Left: Dairy cows graze on a pasture in Greenville. Above: The milking parlor at Lindale Farms in Hampshire can milk eight cows at once.

Photography by Frank Ordonez

M arvin Meyer of Liberty,

Ill. comes from a long line of dairy farmers. But as he watched the number of dairy farms decline over several decades due to increasing costs and tougher regulations, he knew something had to give. “My family milked until 1998. We were milking about 400 cows at that time,” Meyer says. “But it came to a point where we had to decide to get bigger or get out. So we sold our dairy herd and changed avenues.” Today, Meyer makes a living exporting short bred and springer heifers (cows that are close to giving birth) to other countries, including Mexico, Russia and Turkey. He and his sons Ryan and Ty manage a herd that fluctuates between 500 and 1,000 heifers at a time. “Last summer, we sent an order for 1,300 head to Russia by boat,” Meyer says. “Farmers in other countries don’t have as many cattle as we have in the United States, and they buy from us partly because of genetics. Also, as other countries are progressing and seeing their economies improve, people are developing a taste for cheese.” Meyer’s clients buy his cows, milk them, and then produce cheese and yogurt. “Some of the dairies in Mexico are unbelievable,” he says. “One farmer in Aguascaliente is milking 1,800 cows.” In 2000, Illinois had 1,531 dairy farms with roughly 120,000 cows

combined. That number decreased to 782 dairy farms in 2012 with around 98,000 cows across the state. The average Illinois herd size is 125 cows – double the average-size herd 20 years ago. “A lot of guys quit because high feed costs can eat up all your profit,” Meyer says. “I’m one of the lucky ones who have found a way to keep making a living raising cattle.” Many Illinois dairy farmers have found success by being part of a cooperative, such as Prairie Farms Dairy based in Carlinville. Prairie Farms began as a small creamery in 1938 and has evolved into a farmerowned cooperative that processes milk from 765 farms in the Midwest. It has 37 manufacturing plants and 111 distribution points throughout 15 states, and its products include milk, ice cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, sour cream, dips, butter, cream and frozen treats. “This year, Prairie Farms will celebrate 75 years of bringing quality dairy products to its many customers,” says Kasper Koch, a board member of Prairie Farms Dairy and vice president of the Illinois Milk Producers Association. “Prairie Farms’ success and growth are the result of hard work, dedication and support from our farm families and employees.” Koch says one of the challenges the industry faces today is a declining consumption of milk among

consumers, “even though milk is one of the most nutritious and healthy foods one can consume.” Nevertheless, Prairie Farms has found a way to survive – and even thrive. At the 2009 Illinois State Fair, Prairie Farms’ products won 43 blue ribbons. Prairie Farms’ peach yogurt received a perfect score and Grand Champion Honors. “From the dairy farms of its owners to the plants that process our products to the stores,” Koch says, “every detail in quality and freshness is taken so we can deliver the best and most nutritious dairy products possible.” – Jessica Mozo

The average Illinois herd size is 125 cows – double the average-size herd 20 years ago.





crops & Plants

Computing Crops

Spirit Farms embraces the latest technology to grow corn and soybeans Photography by Frank Ordonez

Spirit Farms in North-Central

Illinois is not satisfied with being just another farm. The diverse, family-run, full-service farming operation grows Illinois’ top crops, corn and soybeans, in 10 Illinois counties, incorporating some of the latest technology into its practices. It also offers custom farming solutions to landowners in the area while committing to sustainable agronomy practices and respectful land stewardship. Michelle Stewart and her husband, John, own the operation, located in Sheridan. The company began as a manure-spreading business, and as it grew, Stewart says the couple found they were able to use the same equipment and staff to begin farming on a small scale. The business took off from there. “Vertical integration has enabled us to branch out into many geographical areas surrounding our home base,” Stewart says. “Currently, we’re focusing on providing progressive solutions to the needs of landowners, stewardship of the environment, and using our circle of influence to educate people about modern agriculture and how food is produced while also being a light to surrounding areas, especially the children in the community.” The farm’s use of vertical integration, which Michelle Stewart, left, runs Spirit Farms with her husband, John. They grow row crops and also help other farmers manage their operations.



illinois agriculture



The Stewart family, left, implements sustainable practices and respectful stewardship of the land for generations to come. New technology, such as precision planting and GPS mapping, has increased efficiency on their farm and others that they work with through their business of providing custom farming solutions.

means it is self-sufficient as a business, is ideal for reducing operating costs. This type of strategy, plus the use of modern technology, is helping Spirit Farms make more economical and environmentally friendly decisions for its row crops. “We use precision planting technology on our farm that is available in the John Deere fleet we use,” Stewart says. The tractors are also equipped with GPS mapping and smart devices, which not only allow the farm to be extremely efficient, but also to respond quickly to changing weather conditions. The farm is completing a new grain storage facility that will hold two million bushels. The facility will be outfitted with the latest measurement and grain quality features, resulting in very accurate reporting and quality crops in every stage from field to market. Along with these impressive



illinois agriculture

technological advances on the farm, Stewart praises the highly motivated staff for true innovation. “We have created an in-house program to track grain inventories and logistics in real time for improved immediate accountability,” she says. “We are working on time-tracking systems to more effectively analyze costs right now.” As for the high-tech equipment Spirit Farms uses, Stewart says their fleet is mainly John Deere, but they are open to using whatever makes sense to ensure the highest crop quality along with the care and health of the land, their top priority. She explains that their next technological advance will be improving data analysis for the vast amount of information they use in decision-making, tying that to the farm’s financial performance. In 2012, Spirit Farms was chosen as a stop on the Illinois Department

of Agriculture’s grain tour, which invites international grain leaders to participate in an educational and informative buyer’s tour of Illinois’ grain industry. Stewart says the experience was an eye-opener. “Grain buyers from around the globe walked around the farm and asked many questions. It was a perspective shift for us on the farm because we started thinking about who our ‘customer’ really is,” she says. No doubt their willingness to embrace the latest technological advances, which allow them to produce more with less, landed the Stewarts their spot on the tour. And they found it beneficial for their own operation as well. “We are competing with growers from around the world,” Stewart says. “We need to work as a team with our neighbors to make our geographical area attractive to the global marketplace.” – Rachel Bertone

crops & plants

Where Do Illinois Corn and Soybeans Go? Learn the many uses of these important crops


corn Ethanol






Illinois boasts 14 ethanol plants in the state, and produces more ethanol than any other state. Ethanol is an alcohol made from renewable resources, like corn. Ethanol-blended fuel reduces carbon monoxide and volatile organic compound emissions and is added to gasoline to reduce oil imports, increase performance and reduce overall costs of transportation fuels. The Prairie State produces 1.6 billion gallons of ethanol annually, from 560 million bushels of corn.

Illinois corn that goes for processing is changed into different usable products through a series of events. Corn is soaked and ground so that the germ oil, starch, gluten and hulls can be separated. These items are then made into products like cornstarch, cooking oil, sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, cereal and fuel. Some of Illinois’ crop is used for animal and livestock feed.

Illinois exports a good amount of its corn. In 2011 corn accounted for 28 percent of total agricultural exports for the state.

Illinois soybeans are dehulled and separated into meal and oil after harvest. Soybean meal is used to feed animals, and is very high in nutrients and protein. In Illinois, animal agriculture – mostly pigs – is the No. 1 customer for soybean growers, and accounts for 94 percent of the state’s total soybean use. The meal is also used in the aquaculture industry to feed fish.

Soybean oil from Illinois is used in everything from food to printing ink to fuel. It is most widely used in vegetable oil in the U.S., representing 65 percent of all edible fat and oil consumed by people. Soybean oil is also used to make biodiesel, used by many companies and school districts in the state. The fuel has confirmed performance and environmental benefits, including better fuel efficiency and prolonged engine life.

Soybeans are the top agricultural export for Illinois. Fifty-three percent of Illinois’ soybeans are exported, with a value estimated at $3.1 billion.





Growing Success

Illinois fruit and vegetable farms develop new varieties through grant programs Photography by Jeff Adkins

Many people immediately

think of corn and soybeans as Illinois’ most recognizable crops. And understandably so – the two crops, along with wheat, account for more than 90 percent of the state’s cultivated acres. Yet Illinois farmers also dominate the nation’s pumpkin and horseradish industries, growing more of these crops than any other state. Illinois ranks among the top 10 states in the production of peaches, asparagus, cauliflower, green peas and lima beans, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Farmers devote more than 101,000 acres of Illinois farmland to specialty crops, which in 2010 produced nearly $392 million in annual sales for Illinois farmers. “The way we look at making decisions on choosing crops we produce has a lot to do with marketing,” says Chris Eckert,



illinois agriculture

president of Eckert’s, the nation’s largest pick-your-own farm, with locations in Belleville, Grafton and Millstadt, Ill. “Our goal is to be harvesting something at Eckert’s from the first of May to the end of December.” The harvest season for this southwestern Illinois farm starts with strawberries and progresses with blueberries, blackberries, tomatoes, bell peppers and garlic. The season continues with peaches, apples and pumpkins. Then, it’s time for Christmas trees. Eckert’s attracts about 750,000 people annually to its retail farm locations within 20 to 50 minutes of St. Louis. It also sells peaches wholesale to urban markets. The family’s farming legacy dates back to 1837. Today, the sixth and seventh generations run the business and the family represents some of Illinois’ most determined farmers.

Eckert’s Country Store and Farms, based in Belleville with locations in Grafton and Millstadt, grows pick-your-own peaches, apples and many other fruits. Eckert’s and other apple growers helped to develop a new regional apple variety through the Midwest Apple Improvement Association, which is funded by a specialty crop grant.

Some specialty crops prove a good fit for the state’s weather and certain soil types, while others require greater care to prevent diseases and crop failures that are less problematic in big produce states like California. In fact, Eckert’s, the largest peach grower in Illinois, finds peaches a little risky for the state’s climate, as a winter freeze injury can ruin the crop. U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Grants help increase the success and competitiveness of Illinois fruits, vegetables and other crops. IDOA administers the federal program, and in 2013 the department will distribute about $630,000 to 12 projects focused on research, promotion and market development, says Delayne Reeves, who manages the grant program for IDOA. Among past projects, the Midwest Apple Improvement Association developed a promising apple variety: EverCrisp. The apple, a cross between

a Fuji and Honeycrisp, was bred for Midwestern climates to give its farmers a competitive edge. Eckert’s has a hand in the effort and says EverCrisp should be widely available in a few years. Likewise, Keller Farms works with the Horseradish Growers of Illinois to develop new horseradish varieties, a project funded in part by a specialty crop grant. This year, the farm will work with Illinois universities for the project, says Lindsey Keller, the farm’s fifth generation. Established in 1887, Keller Farms grows corn, soybeans, wheat and specialty crops, including horseradish and sweet corn near Collinsville, the Horseradish Capital of the World. More than two-thirds of the nation’s supply of horseradish originates on 1,844 acres in southwestern Illinois, according to the Census of Agriculture. The herb root grows well in this Mississippi River basin area, which

is rich in potash, a nutrient that horseradish loves. Helping contribute to the economy and creation of jobs, the farms hires about 90 seasonal employees, but labor and weather still present themselves as the farm’s biggest challenges. The family plants horseradish in the spring and harvests from September through May. They sell to a supplier that distributes the product throughout the United States. Some is also exported to South Africa for medicinal use. – Joanie Stiers

What’s Online Read other grant success stories at



Illinois Food & Wine



Residents and retailers encouraged to buy, sell local

The Buy Illinois Challenge encourages consumers to spend $10 per week on Illinois food products, which are designated by logos so they’re easy for shoppers to find.



illinois agriculture

Photography by Frank Ordonez

A small shift in buying habits means billions for Illinois. In fact, the state economy would generate more than an additional $2.4 billion annually if every Illinois household dedicated just $10 of its weekly grocery budget to the purchase of Illinois products, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). To clarify, this is not new money – just shifting a $10 bill in a household’s existing budget. “We’re trying to make that number resonate with consumers and how important it is to buy Illinois,” says Jennifer Tirey, bureau chief of marketing and promotions for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Grocers have told her: If the product is local, consumers will buy it. And if consumers realize the power of their dollars, they become more inclined to look for it. So the department’s newest marketing effort works three-fold: encourage food makers to brand their products as Illinois, give retailers the means to market Illinois and prompt consumers to buy Illinois. That’s the basis for the Buy Illinois Challenge, a statewide effort to educate and stimulate marketing and buying habits for the sake of more in-state commerce.

The Buy Illinois Challenge encompasses two of the state’s logo programs: Illinois Product and Where Fresh Is. Both longtime logos earned a fresh look within the past year and regained the enthusiasm for a promising future. The first includes any product produced, processed, packaged or headquartered in the state. The latter promotes Illinoisgrown fruits and vegetables. Food companies and farmers can use the logos, and grocery stores and restaurants that carry these products may use them in point-of-sale material. The branding effort helps increase visibility and product awareness in the marketplace. “My goal is that the Illinois food companies and growers see the value in the branding and that they participate with us and use the branding campaign to help draw more consumers to their products,” Tirey says. “The governor values the importance of this Buy Illinois Challenge and supporting our local businesses and local growers.” A new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture enables the department to work with 125 grocery

stores and 85 farmers markets in Illinois. The retailers earn publicity and marketing materials in exchange for tracking sales data. The grant will fund promotional activities, including television commercials to highlight Illinois’ summer fruits and vegetables. Gov. Pat Quinn jump-started the campaign in June. The commercials air throughout the state in summer 2013 and feature Illinois-grown strawberries, blueberries, watermelon, peaches and sweet corn. “So many people want to buy local, but don’t know where to find it,” Tirey says. “Our mission is to help make that connection between the consumer and finding it.” If the program succeeds, Illinois products will be hard to miss. Participating retailers in the first phase of this program will receive 6-foot banners and stickers. They also gain access to high-resolution graphics for use on printed materials and websites. When Illinois-grown and -made products become easy to find, small shifts in buying habits become easier to make. – Joanie Stiers



agricultural education

A Living Agricultural Legacy Illinois County Fair Queen carries on her family’s farming tradition Photography by Frank Ordonez

You might see Illinois County Fair Queen Amelia Martens dolled up in an evening gown and crown at the Illinois State Fair, but she’s certainly not afraid to get her hands dirty. The 21-year-old University of Illinois graduate grew up on her family’s farm in Orion, and is no stranger to the physical labor agriculture demands. “We have grain, corn, soybeans and hogs, and my brothers have a small beef cattle operation,” says Martens, daughter of Patrick and Annette Martens. “I grew up assisting with livestock chores and helping Dad with various projects on the farm. It’s a family operation, and we all pitch in where needed.” Martens and her brothers, Ben and Wyatt, are the fourth

generation to live and work on the family farm. Like thousands of farm families across Illinois, they hope to keep their operation going long after their turn at the helm. “As long as I’m alive, I will work to ensure that our farm stays in our family,” Martens says. “Our farm is such a large part of who we are, and it means the world to me. In addition to preserving our homestead, I hope to invest in more farmland in the future to add to our family’s legacy.” Martens’ childhood revolved around agriculture, from showing pigs and bucket calves in 4-H to being involved in FFA and attending the Agriculture Future of America Conference. “I’ve been able to apply the lessons I learned through my

Amelia Martens, the 2013 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen, grew up on a farm in Orion. She has always been surrounded by agriculture, from helping with farm chores to getting involved with 4-H and FFA.



illinois agriculture



As long as I’m alive, I will work to ensure that our farm stays in our family. Our farm is such a large part of who we are, and it – Amelia Martens means the world to me.

Today’s agriculture industry offers More than 200 Career choices. 17 percent of the civilian workforce has a career in agriculture.

What’s Online Learn more about opportunities for young farmers at



illinois agriculture

responsibilities on the farm to just about every aspect of my life,” she says. “I love everything about agriculture – working with my family on the farm, the tight-knit industry, the connections I’ve made across the state and nation, and the abundance of career opportunities. In Illinois, one in four jobs is in agriculture, which is a pretty impressive number and provides terrific job security too.” After winning the Miss Rock Island County Fair Queen title, Martens competed against 69 other county fair queens in January 2013 for the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen title. Martens won a $1,000 scholarship from Prairie Farms Dairy and the opportunity to address the Illinois State Senate on Ag Legislative Day. She also travels the state visiting numerous county fairs, and will serve as hostess for the 2013 Illinois and Du Quoin State Fairs. “Being Miss Illinois County Fair Queen has been a dream of mine since middle school,” Martens says. “I have always wanted to advocate for

The Martens family, including Amelia and her father Patrick, raises grain, corn, soybeans, hogs and beef.

agriculture. This summer, I’m hoping to educate people about farming and the hard working Americans who produce our food. It truly is an honor to represent Illinois agriculture in this way, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.” This fall after her summer fair queen duties are over, Martens will begin working for John Deere’s Construction & Forestry Division as a marketing representative. She says her life would have looked completely different if not for her experience growing up on a farm. “The farm instilled in me values like hard work and responsibility and prepared me for the working world in many ways,” she says. “It was through organizations like 4-H, FFA and Agriculture Future of America that I developed public speaking skills and gained real-world experience in agricultural communications before I ever attended college. I developed a passion for agriculture that runs very deep.” – Jessica Mozo

agricultural education

Forever Farmland

Centennial, Sesquicentennial farms programs honor agricultural longevity


aking sure young people like Martens have a future on farms is one goal of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA)’s Centennial and Sesquicentennial Farms Programs. “Many families have had to overcome numerous hardships to hold onto their land,” says Delayne Reeves, marketing representative for IDOA. “This program is extremely rewarding.” To qualify for Centennial Farm status, an agricultural property must have been owned by the same family (of lineal or collateral descendants) for at least 100 years, or 150 years for Sesquicentennial Farm status. Illinois has more than 9,300 Centennial Farms and more than 600 Sesquicentennial Farms. “Many families have large celebrations when their farm receives the Centennial or Sesquicentennial designation, and the excitement is contagious,” Reeves says. “As I visit with the families during the application process or at the annual day of recognition at the Illinois State Fair, an immense amount of pride is observed. And they should be proud – they have worked hard over decades, from generation to generation, to care for the land they love.” – Jessica Mozo

Opperman Farms in Lincoln was recently recognized as a Sesquicentennial Farm for more than 150 years of family ownership.



agricultural education


Down on the Farm

Illinois farms educate visitors in entertaining ways

At Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greeneville, the farm fresh cheese ages the “cave,” which was modeled after manmade cheese-aging caves in Switzerland.



illinois agriculture



Photography by Frank Ordonez

If you visit M arcoot

The Marcoot sisters make a variety of cheeses and ice creams at Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville.



illinois agriculture

Jersey Creamery in Greenville, chances are that you’ll leave with a full belly and a new appreciation for dairy farming. The Marcoot family milks 65 Jersey cows twice every day and makes 18 varieties of cheese and a dozen flavors of ice cream, which they sell at the creamery. “We make a rotation of ice cream flavors – our strawberry cheesecake ice cream is popular in the spring, and black raspberry pomegranate is very refreshing in summer,” says Beth Marcoot. “And we just introduced a new variety of beer cheese called Tipsy Cheddar.” Tours of the farm and creamery are $3 per person and give visitors a behind-the-scenes peek at the milking parlor, calf barn and cheesemaking process. “We love educating our guests and showing them the whole field-to-fork aspect of agriculture,” Marcoot says. “A unique experience happens on a farm. People can see the baby cows, watch the milking process and then taste the milk and cheese.”

Besides Marcoot Jersery Creamery, more than 50 other farms and agribusinesses across Illinois are also open to the public, inviting citydwellers to spend a relaxing day in the country. While most are farms and orchards, others are vineyards and wineries where visitors can sample wines, attend dinners, pick grapes and learn about how wine is made. Bruce Curry runs one of Illinois’ busiest agritourism destinations today, but he has fond memories of his humble beginnings. “I started growing pumpkins at age 12,” says Curry, now 52. “My neighbors had a pumpkin patch and moved away, so my dad told me I should grow some. I grew about 100 my first year, and I nailed a coffee can to a post with a note saying, ‘For sale, please leave money in can.’ ” Each day after school, Curry would come home and find money in the can. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this is pretty cool,’ ” he remembers. “I’ve been selling pumpkins ever since.” Today, Curry’s 80-acre farm,

Country Corner near Alpha, has a fully-stocked farm market where he sells more than 50 varieties of vegetable plants, perennials, hanging baskets and seasonal produce, including strawberries, green beans, watermelons and asparagus. Country Corner also has pick-your-own pumpkins in the fall, hay rides, a barnyard zoo, outdoor education center and an 8-acre corn maze. More than 35,000 people visit Country Corner each year, including about 5,000 students on scheduled farm tours. Curry says that an on-farm experience can make a major impact on its visitors. “Farmers are only one-and-a-half percent of the population, and the other 98-and-a-half percent want to know more about what we do every day,” he says. “As farmers, we have knowledge and experiences most people want. All we have to do is share it with them.” In August 2011, President Barack Obama held a Town Hall Meeting at Country Corner. “I was out picking watermelons when my cell phone rang,” Curry says. “The guy said, ‘This is Dean from the White House. Do you have time to talk?’ ” The White House representative then explained that the president would be coming to Curry’s area on a bus tour and asked if he could stop at Country Corner. Curry agreed, and the next morning, the president’s crew arrived to scope out the place. “I gave them a hayrack ride and fed them my produce,” Curry says.

Students enjoy locally made ice cream on a field trip to Marcoot Jersey Creamery. The farm hosts tours that give visitors insight into the field-to-fork aspect of agriculture.

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Popular agritourism destinations include U-pick farms, pumpkin patches, orchards, wineries, corn mazes, bed and breakfasts, farm markets, hunting clubs and more. more than

50 million farms are open to the public

Agritourism is defined as any business activity that brings the public to a farm or rural setting in an effort to market farm raised or produced products or the enjoyment of related outdoor activities. Source: University of Illinois Extension

Plan your visit to an Illinois farm. See a list of agritourism destinations across the state within the Illinois Food and Agribusiness Guide, available online at



illinois agriculture

We love educating our guests and showing them the whole field-to-fork aspect of agriculture. – Beth Marcoot “The president held the Town Hall Meeting here five days later. Nobody I’ve worked with has asked me for references since. If you spend your entire life raising vegetables and educating people about agriculture and the president of the United States takes notice, you must be doing something right.” – Jessica Mozo

What’s Online Find links to other agritourism destinations at

Left: Any of Illinois’ many pumpkin patches are popular agritourism spots in the fall. Above: Guests can visit an Illinois corn maze to learn about agriculture while still having fun.

Growing Together

Opportunities for community gardens teach consumers about agriculture


llinois residents eager to learn about farms can get their hands dirty at the Community Garden on the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Developed in 2008, the Community Garden was created by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) as a way to teach consumers about agriculture and give individuals who lacked garden space a place to grow fresh food. It’s located on the interior of the mile race track because of easy accessibility, potential for expansion and access to water sources, among other reasons. “We initially offered the opportunity for gardeners to obtain

up to two 12-by-12 plots for $10 each to use for the season,” says Mike Rahe, manager of the IDOA Bureau of Natural Resource Management. “We supplied a variety of over 2,000 seed samples as well as water, compost and hand tools.” After officially opening in May 2009, the garden had 84 gardeners and 121 plots. Today, 111 gardeners work on 175 plots. Produce, flowers and herbs are the main plants grown in the garden, and Rahe says the sense of community is one of the most exciting aspects to come from the project. “Anyone that plants a seed and nurtures it through harvest, then

consumes what they grow or shares it with neighbors and friends or the needy, has a greater understanding of agriculture,” he says. “When you eat what you have grown yourself, you begin to take ownership in where your food comes from and ownership in agriculture.” The “Plant a Row for the Hungry” program donates produce to local food banks, while the University of Illinois Master Gardener program provides mentoring opportunities. Often, multiple families can be seen working on a plot together, showing the true meaning of a community garden. – Rachel Bertone




24-25 1st Farm Credit Services

1 Brandt Consolidated Inc.

C2 Growmark Inc.

C4 Heartland Bank

10 Illinois Association FFA

2 Illinois Soybean Association

4 Land of Lincoln Regional Tourism Development Office

6 Rovey Seed Co.

43 The Egg Board

C3 University of Illinois College of ACES

agricultural education



illinois agriculture

More than


Economic impact from state’s fairgrounds felt throughout the year Of all the reasons why

Horse racing generates both interest and income for the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.

people like to attend Illinois’ two state fairs, perhaps the main one has to do with simple economics. Both are great bargains, after all. “People can come to the Du Quoin State Fair, pay just $7 for parking and admission, and can see over $200,000 worth of free entertainment,” says John Rednour, director of the Du Quoin State Fair, held each year from Aug. 23 through Labor Day. “There is not a better bargain in Southern Illinois.” There is an equally good deal in the central part of the state, where the Illinois State Fair is held in Springfield for 11 days every August. The price of admission is $7 or less, with free admission on select days for veterans and seniors, and discounted admission for all on Family Day.



photo by Matt DeBackere Photography

“I think the Illinois State Fair is special for many reasons,” says Amy Bliefnick, manager of the fair. “One is we have 160 years of history. We provide an opportunity for Illinoisans to get together and celebrate agriculture, education and entertainment.” Both state fairs are managed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and offer livestock and produce competitions, midway rides and games, concerts and other entertainment, and plenty of food vendors and exhibitors. A 2011 study showed that the Springfield fair had an economic impact of $47 million on the state, and Rednour estimates the Du Quoin fair contributed nearly $16 million to the economy. For the rest of the year, non-fair events at both fairgrounds help drive the local economies. And those days are booked well in advance. “Our calendar is very full,” says Kristi Jones, non-fair coordinator for the Springfield fairgrounds. “In fact, it’s difficult for a new event to get



illinois agriculture

on the calendar because our events return year after year.” These include horse racing, car racing, motorcycle racing, medieval battles, pet shows, quilt shows, farmers markets and the Illinois Products Expo. The fairgrounds can also be rented for weddings, high school proms and conventions. “People come from all over,” Jones says, “and they ultimately either camp out here or they stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants. It has a great impact on our local economy.” Rednour says the fairgrounds in Du Quoin is used about 335 days each year for non-fair events, which include horse shows, camping rallies, rodeos, car shows, softball tournaments and more. “The main thing is to be an economic engine for southern Illinois,” he says. – John McBryde

Photo courtesy of Matt DeBackere Photography

We provide an opportunity for Illinoisans to get together and celebrate agriculture, – Amy Bliefnick education and entertainment.

Non-fair events held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds include weddings, proms and conventions.

The Du Quoin State Fairgrounds is used about 335 days each year for non-fair events.

The Illinois State Fairs contribute a combined

$63 million to the state’s economy.



Illinois Agriculture 2013  

A guide to the state's farms, food and commerce.

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