Lt. Gov. pursues ag lessons on the farm by talking with farmers

Whiteside County Farm Bureau Director Doug Kuehl, far right, helps Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, second from left, understand grain elevator operations at Rock River Lumber and Grain in Prophetstown last week. Stratton spent a day learning about agriculture with farm and agribusiness visits hosted by the county Farm Bureau. Looking on are Whiteside County Farm Bureau Directors Jeremey Geerts, far left, and Jim Friedrichs. (Photo by Kay Shipman)

By Kay Shipman

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton this week sifted a corn sample in an elevator, learned the intricacies of cattle artificial insemination and drove an 8320 John Deere a few yards. Whiteside County Farm Bureau even gave the state’s new lieutenant governor a perspective on this year’s planting season – rainstorms shifted her tour from a grain farm to an elevator.

Stratton and her staff invested most of a day discussing farming and issues with county Farm Bureau President Don Temple and several county Farm Bureau directors. Democratic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, the county Farm Bureau’s adopted legislator from Westchester, joined for the first half before leaving to address college students in Bloomington.

Nearly everything Stratton saw sparked questions about technology, impacts, issues, processes – and the people who work in agriculture.

“First and foremost, it is important to see for ourselves what is happening in the farm communities and rural areas,” Stratton told FarmWeek. “I’ve heard from the farmers today that some things are difficult, but they love what they do.”

In the scale house at Rock River Lumber and Grain Co., Stratton asked about the loads of corn and learned unit trains were loaded to feed chickens in Arkansas and Texas. She also asked about barges and the status of river transportation.

Stratton’s conversation then morphed into a discussion about ag labor shortages and the need for more agriculture graduates with Cary Bauer, Rock River’s co-CEO, and county Farm Bureau directors. She raised the issue of agriculture education, turned to a young county Farm Bureau director and asked rhetorically, “What would it take to have you come back?”

During a brief van ride to watch grain trucks unload, Stratton and the farmers touched on a range of issues from farmers’ problems with affordable health insurance to the length of a farmer’s typical work day.

“If you like what you’re doing, is it still work?” Temple asked, turning to his fellow farmers with a smile.

“But an 80-hour week is still a long week,” Stratton commented.

Stratton and Welch, both wearing new Illinois Farm Bureau caps, marveled as grain trucks quickly unloaded. “This process shows the impact from the farm right to the local economy,” Welch said. “Right here in Illinois, we’re feeding the national economy.”

Over a local delicacy of Chicken George, Stratton, Welch and the farmers continued their wide-ranging conversation about everything from the sizes of farms, to the amount of rented farmland, to the high costs of farm machinery. The lieutenant governor shared her own connections to farming, including a soon-to-graduate daughter who is interested in working in agriculture. And she sought to know more about the farmers who joined her and their families. She even asked if they preferred being called “farmers” or some other term.

“I’ve realized there is so much we don’t know (about agriculture),” Stratton said. “So, we have to tell this story, tell about the successes, the challenges and why agriculture is so important to Illinois.”

When the rain stopped, Stratton was able to walk around Sandrock Farms and Sauk Valley Angus Cattle near Rock Falls and meet several generations, including the seventh generation. Stratton teased the young men about “no pressure” continuing their family tradition.

Ben Sandrock, who manages the cattle operation, explained the purebred cattle business and answered Stratton’s questions about Certified Angus Beef before allowing her to drive his John Deere 8320 with a big smile and a wave to her staff.

“We have to make a connection so people sitting in a farm-to-table restaurant in Chicago get to understand the ‘farm’ part, who does the work and the issues they struggle with on a day-to-day basis to make sure their farms are sustainable,” the lieutenant governor said.

Stratton envisions “exposing the next generation to agriculture and the farming community. ... It starts by telling your story.”