It's the number one industry in Illinois, but two area farmers tell WQAD News 8 that if the state had just one bright spot - it would be agriculture.
On Thursday, March 16th, 2017, David Erickson - the Vice President of the Illinois Farm Bureau - and Jeff Kirwan - the District 3 Director of the Illinois Farm Bureau - sat down with News 8's Angie Sharp for "Breakfast With..." - a weekly segment on Good Morning Quad Cities.
During their coffee and conversation, the pair talked about everything from trade and technology to this weird winter weather - and it's not necessarily a bad thing... for now:
"We’re starting to finalize our plans for where we’re going to plant things, what we’re going to plant, and those kinds of decisions are being finished up and then we are subject to weather," said Kirwan.
"It’s not unusual for us to get snow late into March, maybe even early April," added Erickson. "It’s good for growing crops when we have plenty of moisture to start the season, so this additional snow is a good thing."
When it comes to Mother Nature though, both said there's not much you can do:
"We can’t change it, so it’s all about dealing with it and we try to make the best decisions and Mother Nature plays her cards out right along with us," said Kirwan.
Something that is ever-changing in the world of agriculture is technology. Kirwan called it a "game-changer":
"It helps us make better decisions in times like this when the economics are not as bright as they were two years ago," he explained. "We’re able to use technology to help improve our bottom line by being more efficient in the things that we apply and the things that we do, so it’s very important and I think it will continue to be important as we move forward."
Kirwan and Erickson said the other thing that is important in the future is involving young people in the world of agriculture and that usually starts with programs like 4-H or FFA.
"It teaches them how important agriculture is to the overall economy, shows them what the job opportunities are in agriculture – much more than farming - the technology, the science that goes along with agriculture," explained Erickson.
"Agriculture is still a growing field and I think there’s a huge demand out there for ag-educated students in the ag world and the job sector," added Kirwan.
During our conversation, we also talked about trade and its role in the Illinois economy. Erickson said we sometimes don't think about all the benefits:
"We think of it only as something that affects how we sell products, but it really affects so many more things - like jobs," he said. "When we look at our place here in Illinois, our advantage for transportation, what we can provide in processing products, we don’t want to just think about corn and soybeans, but it’s also livestock and meat products, food products as well, so we are part of a whole world economy and trade is vitally important to make sure we are competitive at agriculture and competitive in the rest of the economy - here in Illinois and the U.S."
Overall though, he said the future of ag in Illinois is positive.
"We certainly have our cycles where we’re a little bit lower in commodity prices, but overall agriculture has been a driving force in the Illinois economy and it will be in the country as well," Erickson said. "The reason that it is, is because it is a basic product we start with and we are able to add value to it down the chain and it doesn’t matter if it’s food processing that we see maybe firsthand as consumers or feed processing and what happens with livestock as it leaves the farm gate."
We were able to have some fun with Kirwan and Erickson as well. Our segment took place at Doug's Town & Country Restaurant in Aledo, Illinois which is in the same building as Millennium Lanes: