Pritzker ag report focuses on economic growth

The 22-member committee, which includes IFB President Richard Guebert Jr., recommended several calls to action, including protecting sales tax incentives for agricultural inputs and equipment and promoting the state's agricultural products.

By Kay Shipman

An Illinois agricultural wish list covers markets, infrastructure, education and more, based on the Pritzker Administration’s agriculture transition committee.

The committee’s recently released report, “Growing Our Agricultural Economy,” promotes agricultural growth in both rural and urban areas as an economic development tool.

“The overall goal and objective is improvement – not just in agriculture – but in rural and urban development through agriculture,” Acting Agriculture Director John Sullivan, committee co-chair, told FarmWeek.

Several of the 22-member committee’s recommendations, such as expanding broadband and improving infrastructure, come with hefty price tags, but the report includes no cost estimates or funding sources. Sullivan said the group was directed to focus on the ag sector’s needs, but not how to find dollars to address those.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr., an ag committee member, said, “We are pleased that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton recognized the importance of agriculture as a cornerstone to the state of Illinois’ economy and the number of jobs it creates.

“I was honored to serve on the transition team and pleased the report included a call to maintain the Illinois Farmland Assessment Act, protect sales tax incentives for agricultural inputs and equipment, and maintain a balanced process for siting livestock farms through the Livestock Management Facilities Act,” Guebert said.

The report stresses a need to expand markets and promote the state’s agricultural products, noting the budget crisis saw cuts to Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) promotions and export marketing. Cooperation between IDOA and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) was highlighted as a way to leverage state resources. That partnership also could use the 80 foreign trade offices located in Chicago, the report noted.

Committee Co-Chair Colleen Callahan pointed out potential synergy could emerge from similar marketing and promotional efforts by IDOA and DCEO. Some ideas offered by ag committee members “made such sense, we thought, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?’” Callahan said.

However, committee members remained cognizant of the state’s financial problems. “Given the fiscal constraints the state is under, what can we do to access markets?” Sullivan offered. In addition to collaborating with other agencies, IDOA could also work with organizations, such as the Food Export Association to which IDOA belongs, the acting director added.

Two needs raised by many committee members are high-speed internet and agriculture education for elementary through adult learners.

A statewide need for broadband may need to be part of a state capital bill, according to Sullivan. “Our (ag transition team) goal was, if the General Assembly works on a capital bill, broadband should be a part of it,” he said.

The committee envisions ag education extending from elementary and secondary levels through vocational, college, university and Extension programs. An industry committee highlighting the importance of ag ed, Sullivan said, was to increase the awareness of opportunity in agriculture, “to show higher education, you don’t have to be a farmer to be successful in agriculture ... Look at the opportunities for college graduates (in agriculture).”

At the same time, successful ag-related careers are achievable through vocational training. “Vocational agriculture is something I promoted throughout my senate career,” Sullivan said. “Not everyone has to go through two- and four-year college programs.”

Underlying all the ag committee’s recommendations, farm profitability remains a must, Callahan said.

To read the agriculture report or any of the 10 other transition reports, visit this link