Change is constant and often necessary. Businesses continually adapt to remain competitive and profitable, and schools respond to economic trends to produce graduates that can succeed at jobs many of us never thought would even exist when we were young. While the rate of change can be dizzying, one thing that will never change is the value and importance of the Illinois farmer.
I recall that while I was in high school in the early 1980’s, I would often meet new classmates as the population in town was exploding. I would ask my new friends where they lived, and they would respond with a new subdivision I’d never heard of. That often prompted me to respond with “Do you know whose farm it used to be?”
While Naperville has transformed into a large suburb bustling with other kinds of business and economic opportunities, agriculture and farming remains this state’s most important business.
When it comes to economic impact, agriculture is Illinois’ top industry, contributing in excess of $8.85 billion annually to the state’s economy, and employing more than 1.5 million people. About 75% of the state’s land mass is dedicated to farming and agriculture, with more than 70,000 individual farms operating on 27 million acres of land. It is our cool, dry winters, warm summers, ample rainfall, and beneficial soils that make the Land of Lincoln one of the nation’s leading producers of soybeans, corn, oats, hay, fruits, vegetables, cattle, swine, dairy, sheep, and poultry. Agriculture-related industries like grain processing and meat packing plants, dairy manufacturing, vegetable processing and feed milling account for related businesses made possible by Illinois’ robust agriculture and farming system.
Illinois is also one of the nation’s and world’s largest exporters of agricultural products. Western states that have experienced an unprecedented drought have become more and more reliant on Illinois. An extreme, drought-fueled water shortage has all but decimated western states’ ability to grow enough crops. Similarly, the war in Ukraine is having a significant impact on crops. Russia and Ukraine are both large producers and exporters of agriculture products, and as exports stall and future harvests are threatened, countries that typically rely on Russia and Ukraine must also now find other sources for wheat, corn, and other products.
The vital contributions Illinois farmers make toward the state, national, and global economy cannot be understated. These hard-working men and women literally produce the items we need for survival. How many of us can say our jobs actually sustain life? Thank you, Illinois farmers.