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Illinois farmers outline their priorities as farm bill deadline approaches

 Illinois Farm Bureau news conference
Eric Stock
Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert, center, speaks with reporters during a news conference Thursday in Bloomington. At left is U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, along with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, right.

Illinois farmers want to ensure they'll have federal protections to cover crop losses in the new farm bill, amid a year in which many of them are dealing with drought, storm damage or both.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert says his Bloomington-based group has been meeting with farmers across the state to hear their priorities ahead of negotiations on a new five-year bill.

“They were pretty loud and clear that crop insurance is the mainstay that gives us the ability that if, God forbid, there are disasters or challenges in different farms and farming operations, that there is some type of recoup of some of our input costs going forward so we can farm the next year,” Guebert said during a Thursday news conference at the Illinois Agricultural Association offices in Bloomington.

Guebert said fair trade and voluntary conservation programs also are important to farmers.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and members of Illinois’ congressional delegation and their staffers took part in a roundtable discussion with agriculture leaders Thursday as a precursor to congressional negotiations on the bill.

Another key part of the five-year food and nutrition bill is supplemental assistance for struggling families. Recently, Congress added new work requirements to get SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. Durbin said negotiators do not plan to revisit that issue in the farm bill, adding some Republicans also did not get what they wanted during the recent negotiations to raise the debt ceiling.

“We’re not going to go back into that again,” Durbin said. “We’ve established what the agreement is and we are moving forward from there. If somebody wants to make a political issue out of the farm bill, we’ve got to tell them we don’t have time for that.”

U.S. Rep. Jonathan Jackson, a first-term Democrat from Chicago who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said he was excited to see several urban initiatives in this farm bill, including one that helps producers sell direct to urban school districts and another that offers farming education.

“Unfortunately, we’ve gone too far away from people in the urban market understanding where their food comes from because it doesn’t come from the grocery store. It actually comes from the soil,” Jackson said.

The new farm bill is expected to top $1 trillion for the first time.

“When you consider the size of agriculture production across the United States, it’s a modest investment in terms of our return on the quality and safety of the food we consume, but also on all the elements of farming,” said Durbin.

Durbin said he’s optimistic bipartisan leaders in the Senate can broker an agreement before the current bill expires on Sept. 30. He’s less optimistic the Republican-led House will agree to the same plan by then.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.