Illinois Department of Agriculture Acting Director Bob Flider says budget challenges remain for the department. (Photo by Carrie Muehling/WJBC)
By Carrie Muehling
BLOOMINGTON – The Illinois agriculture industry is regrouping after a difficult production year.
“Agriculture took it on the chin a little bit this year, but as we’ve seen in past years, Illinois agriculture also knows how to get up, dust itself off and get ready for the next year and perhaps be even stronger,” said Bob Flider, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA).
Flider said the state is still dealing with effects of the drought with the Mississippi River and other waterways being at perilously low levels, which could have a devastating impact on the Illinois economy.
In general, Illinois exports are strong and Gov. Pat Quinn wants to see those exports double by 2014. Agriculture is a huge component of that with grain and animal production. A grain tour in Illinois this past summer hosted by the IDOA resulted in more than $50 million in sales for the coming year, which was triple the previous three years.
IDOA is also working to promote Illinois products, unveiling a new logo this past year. They frequently have a presence at food and restaurant shows to promote Illinois products to buyers from throughout the world. Flider noted that besides large corn and soybean production numbers, Illinois ranks first in pumpkin production and the wine industry is also flourishing.
The state’s financial challenges continue to affect agriculture. Flider said until the pension crisis is resolved and there is some certainty about what the cost will be for that system in the future, it will be a challenge to provide the same level of services that were available in the past.
“In the last five years, we’ve lost nearly 40 percent of the people in certain areas just because of the budget crunch,” said Flider.
Meat inspection is one example of a vital program and right now Illinois employs the bare minimum of people to conduct that service. Budget cuts have also resulted in the consolidation of animal testing facilities and the closure of the Centralia facility.
Flider attended the Illinois Commodity Conference in Bloomington on Nov. 20.
Carrie Muehling can be reached at email@example.com.