IFT Stratton
Illinois Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton was among those attending the Taste of Illinois event Dec. 8 at the Illinois Farmer Bureau annual meeting. At the annual meeting, farmers expressed concern about commodity prices, trade uncertainty and profitability, but took a break to celebrate Illinois products as well.

CHICAGO — Low commodity prices during a year of uncertainty in trade and extreme weather challenges were all topics at the top of minds at the 104th annual Illinois Farm Bureau meeting in Chicago on Dec. 8.

The challenges featured in the address of president Richard Guebert Jr. and in a survey of members.

“In 2019, farmers were challenged with historic flooding, delayed planting and harvesting, ongoing trade wars and demand destruction to the biofuels market, all of which were key factors in contributing to a sluggish farm economy and continued uncertainty for our Illinois farmers,” Guebert said in his opening address at the annual meeting Dec. 7-10.

The group has been surveying members for nine years, Guebert said Dec. 8. The survey results expressed the same concerns he was hearing at the convention as he spoke with farmers.

The responses showed uncertainty and a lack of optimism in 2020. Farmers noted they were holding off on purchases of new equipment, upgrades and replacements. They showed uncertainty regarding how long they can manage at or below break-even income levels.

Farmers noted they had “less income, more instability and more risk.”

More than half the 2,700 farmer respondents said it was likely their farms would continue to be farmed by the next generation of their family after their retirement.

“We ask some of the same questions so we can compare. It helps us as leaders ensure we’re tackling the issues and needs of our members and prioritizing our resources to the best of our abilities,” Guebert said of the survey.

There is an urgency to get the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement finalized, frustration with the continued lack of agreement with China, and pleasure that there is an agreement with Japan, he said.

“We need more of those,” he said. “There is a lot of optimism and skepticism. We’ve got to get that deal (with China).”

In addition to trade, expanding investment in modern waterway infrastructure on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers and defending the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard are key priorities, he said.

The meeting, attended by about 1,700 Illinois Farm Bureau members and guests, includes education seminars, guest speakers, business and the voting of resolutions in the delegates meeting, with 339 voting delegates representing more than 79,000 voting members.

This year they were considering 50 policy submittals, including topics related to climate change, guest worker labor, pesticide application, state and local finance and vehicle regulations.

At the same time there is a strong awareness of stress for farmers as reflected in some of the health fair workshops. It was also “very upbeat” as people acknowledged the achievements of Farm Bureau County leaders and young leaders, said Guebert, a Randolph County farmer from southwestern Illinois.

“As farmers, when we come off a tough year, we are always looking forward to the next,” Guebert said.

At the Taste of Illinois event that featured Illinois foods made from crops grown in the state, including rice and peaches, farmers got a chance to exchange ideas as well as meeting some prominent consumers.

Among the farmers with food featured at the event were Chris and Matt Klein of Klein Produce in Kane County. They grow a variety of vegetables and market them through their farm stand in northeastern Illinois.

Among those who sampled their tomatoes and peppers were Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton. The Kleins were happy with her response to growers.

“She was so excited to meet us. It felt really good,” Chris Klein said.

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