Nelson reflected on being in a high school vocation agriculture class in the 1970's and watching a fill on "farming in the future". This movie talked about the idea of planting without having a farmer on the tractor, almost inconceivable for the time, but a reality in 2007.
He challenged farmers to think about 10 years in the future from now, 300 bushel corn, 80 bushel soybeans and 800 gallon/acre ethanol production and the thought of Illinois being a transportation hub for the all of the Midwest for moving agricultural products and other goods and services.
In 2007, Illinois Farm Bureau had 419,934 members, which is an all time high.
Nelson also discussed the challenges for the future and the formation of a key profitability task force to consider these issues:
- Rising input costs - record prices for fertilizer, seed, fuel, etc.
- Illinois infrastructure - the current infrastructure is failing rapidly, but there is promise with the passing of the Water Resources Development Act.
- Basis issue - meeting with the CBOT, Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Futures Exchange. Would like to see an ag advisory committee.
The formation of Farm Bill Task force was created by Illinois Farm Bureau. Nelson gave the example of former USDA Secretary Mike Johanns coming to Decatur for a listening tour session and the ideas that one Illinois farmer presented that were later included in the drafting of the farm bill. Illinois farmers also expressed concern for the need of a farm safety net, conservation and rural development.
Nelson also encouraged a strong look at the structural changes in agriculture with companies such as Walmart and McDonalds now purchasing up to 35% of agricultural goods produced. Farm Bureau is encourage the Dept. of Justice to work with USDA to review merger proposals of large companies not only on a business basis, but also a regional basis as well and to consider agricultural producer views in addition to consumer views in this process.
Trade continues to be of large importance to agriculture and should be a continued emphasis for national policy in the future.
The Food v Fuel v Feed debate was also discussed this past year. Nelson emphasized that many pundits were asking if enough commodities could be produced to serve all these needs. Farmers rose to the occasion and planted a record 93 million acres of corn producing 13 billion bushels. There is much hype in the media about "farmers getting rich". The press does not consider or understand the energy prices as a major contributor to the increase in prices at the grocery store. For example only about 12cents in a $5 gallon of milk goes to the farmer.
Regarding the fuel debate, 32 new ethanol or bio diesel plants were permitted in Illinois in 2007 by the Illinois EPA. But bio fuels is still very much in it's infancy and will continue to need to be nurtured along for growth and maturity.
Livestock producers have been upset with the increased in feed prices this past year. The livestock industry needs to work closely with the other segments of agriculture to ensure a unified voice and focus. Nelson cited a report that for the first time, there may be an increase in the number of livestock facilities for the first time in 30 years in Illinois.
Nelson urged the need for education of the public about animal production and cited efforts by the American Human Society to influence agriculture through the ballot box with the referendum held in Arizona on the use of hog gestation crates. PETA has also weighed in on these issues and recently purchased a large share of stock in Panerra Bread Company. Illinois Farm Bureau is creating the "Ag Challenges Initiative" over the next 3 years to raise awareness of agricultural issues.
The mess in Springfield was also discussed with the disaster of the current state budget, the proposal of the Gross Receipts Tax and the idea of putting the sales tax back onto machinery and farm inputs.
Nelson also reported that a committee is creating a "Vision for Illinois Agriculture" and has a very good working committee under way. The strategic themes for this group are:
- Make Illinois a central hub of transportation with special emphasis on the Chicago region
- Make Illinois the number 1 state in the nation in the production of bio and renewable energy.
- More emphasis on research and encourage young people to consider careers in agriculture.
- Improve the Illinois Business climate - expand the Illinois economy.
Nelson concluded by encouraging farmers to look ahead for technology that will make the future of Illinois agriculture bright.