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For over a decade now, organizations that have public policy interests related to Illinois agriculture have met together in the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable – to seek common ground on state and federal issues of importance to the community that makes up agriculture, broadly speaking, in the Prairie State.
On January 9, the Roundtable convened for its annual winter meeting, hosted by the Illinois Farm Bureau in Bloomington. With the general election and veto sessions now over, the attention is now on issues that confront the new General Assembly in Springfield and the new Congress in Washington. Everybody knows that money is tight, so the issues going forward are a lot like the ones left on the table – the “farm bill” debate in Washington, the pension debacle in Springfield, and government spending and deficits at all levels. Also coming off the past year’s drought, the critically low water level in the Mississippi River, threatening navigation to move plant food north or commodities south, has risen to a top-of-mind issue, while all eyes are on the sky for the next growing season. Industry groups and policy makers have coalesced with the Army Corp of Engineers to work on ways to keep the river open as long as possible.
The main topic of Roundtable discussion this year concentrated on issues related to the livestock industry in Illinois. While economics may argue for growth of local food animal production in states like Illinois – closer to markets and inputs – the Illinois livestock industry faces significant headwinds from many quarters. Not least of the current issues is animal care. Janeen Johnson, associate professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, explained to the Roundtable that her research shows how some of the issues related to animal well-being in livestock production are being driven by the wrong forces. As the public is increasingly distant from livestock production, public attitudes toward the industry are shaped by influences often charged with emotion. Science is incredibly valuable for testing assumptions that may lead to unintended consequences in the public policy arena, and Roundtable members turn to the University of Illinois to seek scientifically sound solutions to challenging issues.
The next Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable is scheduled for June 12.