A leader of the agricultural pack, Illinois plays a key role in providing food for the U.S. and the world. The Prairie State ranks at the top for several of the nation’s most important commodities, including No. 1 in soybean production, No. 2 in corn and No. 4 in swine, as well as a leader in several specialty crops, such as pumpkins, buckwheat, horseradish and Christmas trees.
Illinois’ driven farmers produce these commodities on 74,300 farms, each averaging about 358 acres in size, which span nearly 27 million acres across the state. Their efforts generate more than $19 billion for Illinois’ economy annually.
To help protect the state’s vital animal industry – including swine, beef, poultry, sheep and more – the Galesburg Animal Disease Laboratory at the Illinois Department of Agriculture expertly monitors animal health. The lab provides services relating to animal diseases and meat inspection, protecting the animals as well as consumers who buy Illinois animal products.
Several colleges and universities across Illinois help keep the industry strong for the future by planting the seed early. At the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences in Urbana, students can choose from 11 different majors with dozens of concentrations. Majors include agricultural communications, animal sciences, crop sciences, horticulture and more. Students also have opportunities to study abroad and learn about agriculture across the globe, gaining marketable skills they can bring back to the Prairie State.
At the Southern Illinois University College of Agricultural Sciences in Carbondale, students gain hands-on experience at the school’s 2,000-acre on-campus working farm and forest system. The research and education centers on the farm offer more than 600 acres of row crop research and production, approximately 300 acres of pasture for animal centers, over 120 acres of hay production for livestock, and more. Facilities like this help students get ahead in their fields with valuable knowledge that easily transfers to post-graduate careers.
Family A Fair
County fairs punctuate Illinois summers with fun, food and festivities. The Prairie State boasts 104 different county fairs each year, spanning from June to September. Each one has a variety of attractions for the whole family, ranging from carnival rides to livestock shows to funnel cake.
Fairs aren’t just fun for visitors: 4H and FFA members participate in competitions and activities, displaying a year’s worth of hard work training their livestock projects, perfecting their pie crusts, sewing complex patterns and preparing speeches. County fairs act as feeder programs for youth to compete at the state level at the Illinois State Fair.
‘I Do’ Down on the Farm
The farm wedding trend is sweeping the nation, as brides opt to say their vows in barns or on rolling hillsides instead of in traditional churches or wedding venues. Heritage Prairie Farm and Oak Hill Farm are two popular wedding destinations for Illinois love birds. Both venues work closely with the couples to create personalized, rustic and memorable affairs.
Heritage Prairie Farm is approximately 40 miles west of Chicago and offers all-inclusive wedding services, including planning and catering.
Oak Hill Farm is home to St. John’s Church and the owners were the first couple to be married there. The family has worked to refurbish the farm, which offers couples a unique and authentic farm wedding experience.
A Swine Time
Formed in 1997, Certified Pedigreed Swine (CPS) is a unified organization of three breed associations – the Chester White, Poland China and Spotted breed associations. CPS serves more than 1,000 breeders, providing registration certificates, ancestral files, records, membership lists, production information and more. The organization also hosts numerous breed shows and activities, including their two annual national shows, the Summer Type Conference and the National Barrow Show. They publish Breeders Digest, which is dedicated to swine breeds.
Watershed Park is a 1-acre interactive exhibit enlightening consumers on water quality protection. Situated at the west end of the Agri-Expo on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, this educational center features 13 exhibit stations where visitors learn about soil conservation, urban storm water runoff, farm and homestead health and safety, integrated pest management, water management, wetlands and wildlife habitat, and more. The attraction is open during the State Fair, Earth Day and by appointment.