Illinois State capital

In 2019, Illinois’ $45 billion bill focused on improving infrastructure raised gas taxes, and farm groups are eyeing other tax issues and incentives along with livestock regulations that could come up in the state legislature in 2020.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — While trade wars may have dominated the national attention in 2019, new Illinois laws will also be affecting the livelihood and practices of farmers here.

In 2019 one of the biggest headlines in Illinois was the passing of Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $45 billion capital bill, known as Rebuild Illinois, with a focus on improving infrastructure in the state. Details on how that money will be spent continue to trickle out.

So far the impact of gas taxes has not been huge, said Kevin Semlow, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of state legislation.

Another key part of the governor’s platform is to create a progressive income tax — an issue that will show up on the ballot in November. It requires a constitutional change. Illinois Farm Bureau does not support constitutional change for the progressive tax, Semlow said.

On the other hand, Illinois Farm Bureau is supportive of a new law regarding heirs in a forced sale and another concerning agriculture teachers. Both passed on Aug. 23, 2019. SB1780 and HB3677 allow a right of first refusal for heirs of property upon a forced sale. It will make a difference for a family trying to keep a farm, Semlow said.

SB1489 provides for grants for agricultural teachers.

Semlow said the group is waiting for the results of a task force on property tax, an important issue to farmers in light of the current farm economy. Attention will also be directed to proposed laws concerning fertilizers and chemicals farmers can use.

The IFB recommends no changes to the Livestock Facilities Management Act, Semlow said, saying it is fair now for farmers and to protect animal, environmental and consumer interests.

Balancing the Illinois budget, especially with its pension obligations, is also a key issue again this year.

He said he imagines there will likely be laws proposed concerning locally grown food and food safety, and says IFB will be engaged in these discussions.

Concerning corn

Legislation regarding ethanol and other corn byproducts is fueling the attention of the Illinois Corn Growers Association this year. Among the efforts the group support is a tax incentive to help jumpstart E15, said Dave Loos, the group’s technology and business development director.

It would be something similar to the small sales tax used to kick start E10. That tax was discontinued three years ago when it was no longer needed, Loos said.

Last year, House and Senate bills were introduced to get similar incentives for E15, but they got stuck in rules committees.

“It’s never been the right timing,” Loos said.

But he thinks that could be different in 2020. There has been good support for it by the ag committee, he said.

On the other hand, Illinois Corn is lobbying against SB1407 that passed in the senate last year which requires petroleum, petrochemical and ethanol plants to use union labor for construction, expansion and maintenance.

“We’re working to get ethanol plants out of that,” Loos said.

The requirement for ethanol plants, which he said are considerably smaller and have different components than petrochemical plants, would have a negative impact on the ethanol industry’s ability to grow in Illinois. For Illinois, the third largest producer of ethanol in the country after Iowa and Nebraska, it would be tougher to compete with other states if this law went into effect, Loos said.

“This law would be a huge hindrance to our (ethanol) expansion here,” he said, and come at a time when advocates are seeking increased exports to Mexico and China, specifically.

Corn and soybean growers would like to see more incentive funding available for bio-based companies to locate here and for research to assist them,

Loos said.

“There are already really great research centers in Illinois” doing related work, he said, naming the National Corn to Ethanol Research Center at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, the USDA lab in Peoria and the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign.

Iowa has already passed a similar bill to incentivize such companies; Minnesota and Nebraska are close.

“We don’t want Illinois to get left behind,” Loos said.

On the plate for pork

Illinois pig farmers get a chance to talk to legislators at their annual meeting in Springfield, which happens on Feb. 4-5 this year. Some Illinois Pork Producers Association executives and farmer-directors visit legislators in their offices, and then legislators are welcomed to a meal and reception in the exposition hall of Pork Expo.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase the industry,” said Jennifer Tirey, IPPA executive director.

Among the topics generally discussed with legislators is the Livestock Facilities Management Act, which the pork producers support.

“We’d like to see it stay the way it is,” Tirey said

While IPPA will continue its efforts working with state legislators, it will turn additional attention to county board members this year, Tirey said. When pork producers file a request to construct a new building, for example, discussions start at the county level. If county board members have some knowledge of the pork industry, they will be better prepared to answer neighbor or consumer questions when they come up.

With that in mind, Tiery and her team have identified 50 counties in Illinois to target information in their new county outreach program. They will be sending information to board members in those counties on a quarterly basis. The counties chosen have some connection with pork production and may also have urban components.

“We encourage farmers to be proactive,” she said, adding that the organization that represents them can do the same.

Because of biosecurity issues and logistics, there’s no way every consumer can see inside barns, but through programs such as this, tours can be arranged for the stakeholders so they understand modern pig farming.

The first mailing to county board members is an introduction of the pork industry here, “to let them know who we are, a pig farming 101,” she said. It lets board members know that Illinois is fourth in the nation for pork production. The mailings also note if their county is one the top 10 pork-producing counties in the state, as well as providing information about corn and soybeans grown for feed.

Tirey said she has already received a good response from the first mailings from board members asking questions and making comments.

The second quarterly release to board members will be focused around Earth Day and will concentrate on environmental issues including manure management. The third will be about animal well-being and health and the fourth about production, technology and marketing.

The goal is to provide information and to open the lines of communication in the counties so board members know the agency, who to come to with questions, and have a better understanding of pig farmers and pork production, she said.

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Phyllis Coulter is Northern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.