Saturday, April 12, 2008

Does Illinois Agriculture Still Matter?

As in many states, Agriculture has long been the number 1 industry in Illinois. For many rural counties, farm income accounts for a large percentage of the economic development generated for these areas.

With the huge increase in expectations for agriculture to contribute to America's energy independance, agriculture is playing a more important role in our nations future than ever before. Despite this importance, the state of Illinois has targeted agriculture in this state for dismantling.

In 2004, the Governor proposed imposing new taxes on agriculture including on machinery, seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc. Currently agriculture does not have to pay a sales tax on these inputs because it is considered a wholesale purchase. Imposing a tax on these purchases would have brought in millions more for the state, but severly impacted farm income. Only through a large grassroots effort, did the state not impose these new taxes.

Another significant cut for Illinois agriculture has come to the Council on Food and Agricultrual Research (CFAR). CFAR was created in the early 1990's to give a significant boost to agricultural research in Illinois. CFAR has funded research projects that have made significant strides to further Illinois ag. One specific example is the research that CFAR funded into the potential of miscanthus as a feedstock for bio-fuels production. In part because of this research, BP chose the University of Illinois along with UC-Berkely to host the Energy Biosciences Institute. CFAR had a peak budget of about $15 million per year and this was slashed to about $4.5 million in recent years. In FY 2008 the state of Illinois has refused to release the funding passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor.

More recently the Governor has decided to not relase the funds to provide the state match for UI Extension. This will mean the reduction of 450 positions state wide. Additionally the Governor will not send Soil and Water Conservation districts their annual appropriation, many of these county offices have or will shortly run out of funding and have to close their doors.

Where is the logic in any of these decisions? Most of this is because of a childish argument between legislative leaders and the Governor. Each tries to trump the other, all at the expense of taxpayers, whom elected these leaders to serve the state, not to be self serving for poltical gain.

No end appears in site soon, but one thing is for sure, this will have a deep and profound effect on Illinois agriculture for many years to come. This is shameful.

No comments: