It’s no secret that 2019 has been a challenging year for Illinois farmers and agriculture businesses. The spring planting season was one of the most difficult in decades, creating uncertainty in our state’s number one industry. As a farmer, I understand the ups and downs that come with the industry, but I also know that Illinois farmers are resilient and will find ways to weather the storm.
While there are no instant fixes for farmers this season, the Illinois Department of Agriculture continues our efforts to give all those involved with agriculture some certainty. In September, myself along with Governor J.B. Pritzker, Illinois Soybean Association Chairman Doug Schroeder and Illinois Corn Marketing Board Chairman Roger Cy, joined a Taiwan trade delegation for a trade signing ceremony. Taiwan is Illinois’ third largest importer of ag products.
During the event, the Taiwan Vegetable Oil Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Soybean Association signed a letter of intent, marking Taiwan’s intentions to buy between 96 and 97 million bushels of soybeans between 2020 and 2021. The value of these purchases is estimated to be over $1 billion.
At the same event, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Taiwan Feed Industry Association signed a letter of intent marking Taiwan’s intentions to purchase 197 million bushels of corn and 500,000 metric tons of corn coproducts (distillers dried grains with solubles) between 2020 and 2021. The value of these purchases is also estimated to be over $1 billion.
Illinois is the top producer of soybeans in the United States, exporting 360 million bushels annually. We are the second largest producer of corn with exports of 877 million bushels each year. Our partnerships with foreign buyers like Taiwan provide some relief for Illinois farmers during these trying times of trade and tariff uncertainty.
In addition to positive trade news with Taiwan, there are other exciting things happening in our state’s agriculture industry. The first hemp harvest is taking place in fields all around Illinois. In our first year, we had more than 1,000 applications to grow hemp in Illinois and farmers have begun notifying the department as they begin their harvest.
We are also working diligently to help bring expanded broadband service to rural communities across the state. Working with partners and stakeholders like the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives, Governor Pritzker and the Illinois General Assembly, we are making rural broadband expansion a priority. These efforts resulted in a $420 million investment for broadband expansion being included in the recently passed capital bill. The Connect Illinois program working in conjunction with the Illinois Broadband Advisory Council will provide resources and guidance to expand broadband service throughout the state’s unserved and underserved areas.
Farming has always been full of uncertainty—it is the nature of what we do. But if there is one thing I know for certain, it’s the commitment all of us at the Illinois Department of Agriculture make to ensure agriculture continues to thrive and drive our state’s economy.