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Richard Guebert, Jr.
The icy winter temps in the Midwest mean a slow season for many. But for Illinois farmers like me, it’s the time of year to plan ahead for the spring planting season.
Many in agriculture are already feeling the strain of rising input costs and fractured supply chains due to the ongoing pandemic. Farmers are worried these issues could be compounded by additional water regulations and unreliable fuel standards, which will drastically impact many family farms.
The Illinois Farm Bureau Board of Directors, which represents the largest group of farmers in the state, set new priorities for the organization in January. They’ll focus on supporting members as the ag industry faces the challenges ahead.
Rising input costs
Since the spring of 2020, nearly every person has experienced price fluctuations and supply limitations on products they need. For farmers, fertilizer shortages have made a large dent in business profitability.
Growers are reporting price hikes of more than 300% on fertilizer purchases this year. That’s especially significant because fertilizer costs account for approximately 15% of the total cash costs for crops.
And the lack of truck drivers and congestion at American ports mean delivery times are anyone’s best guess.
If these trends continue, consumers might also see rising prices at the grocery. To curb this issue, we’re looking to Congress to help us find solutions.
Changing water regulations
Last November, the Biden administration announced a plan to return to a previous definition of “waters of the United States.” The proposed regulation would repeal the 2020 Navigable Waters Protection Rule and broaden the federal government’s authority under the Clean Waters Act
Farmers are frustrated with the federal government’s decision to expand federal jurisdiction onto waterways on private lands.
The revised rule would make it difficult for farmers and property owners to decipher where their property will be impacted and create challenges when implementing conservation practices in those areas.
For people whose properties won’t be affected by the ruling, this issue might seem trivial. But for family farmers who would lose the right to manage parts of their land, it’s a big concern.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers considers a final rule, the agriculture community would like to see clear terms that are easy to interpret and apply, with flexibilities for landowners to conduct innovative and environmentally beneficial projects.
Expanding infrastructure, broadband
As one of the largest producers and exporters of soybeans and corn in the country, Illinois ag has played a critical role in ag trade for decades. Over time, the transportation of commodities has left roads, bridges and waterways in our state in desperate need of repair.
The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Biden last fall works to address the wear and tear on transportation systems across the nation.
As funds make their way to our state, it’s important that they’re used to rebuild transportation routes that get supplies to farms and, in turn, help farmers get their products to consumers.
Dollars should also be disbursed fairly to rural areas, especially the funds marked for expanding rural broadband.
The need for additional education and telehealth resources has become increasingly important while dealing with fluctuating COVID cases over the past couple of years.
As it stands, many farmers and entrepreneurs in small towns lack the technology they need to improve their businesses.
When large meat packing plants closed their doors early on in the pandemic, small companies stepped up to the plate to fill the need. The situation demonstrated why businesses of all sizes are needed to keep our domestic food supply strong.
Just imagine the innovation and economic gains that would come with access to reliable, affordable and fast internet in all parts of the state, not just the highly populated areas.
With so much on the table for farm families in 2022, it’s critical that they get the tools they need to succeed. The supply of food, fuel and fiber people depend on relies on the strength of agriculture in our state.
This op-ed was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.