The Illinois Corn Growers Association excitedly looks forward to pursuing the following federal legislative goals in 2019:

  1. Support ratification of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) for trade
  2. Support multiple pathways that improve market access for higher ethanol blends
  3. Support a federal infrastructure bill that includes funding to upgrade locks and dams on the Upper Mississippi River system

Why ratification of the USMCA matters

In Illinois, 41 percent of our corn leaves the state for other markets.  Including ethanol and dried distillers grain with solubles (DDGS) exports, well over half of your corn is leaving the state.  That means that all international markets matter to Illinois corn farmers.

Mexico and Canada are now our top markets because of the extreme success of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), markets that corn farmers absolutely cannot afford to lose.

Exports of grains in all forms (GAIF) – including U.S. corn, barley, sorghum, DDGS, ethanol and certain meat products – have increased 279 percent to Mexico and 431 percent to Canada since the NAFTA went into effect.

Mexico has recently topped all other markets in GIAF imports, with total marketing year shipments growing 6.3 percent year-over-year to a new record of 25.2 million metric tons (almost 1 billion bushels in corn equivalent) between 2016/2017 and 2017/2018. Mexico is the top international buyer of U.S. corn, barley and DDGS as of the last full marketing year’s data, with sales in each category increasing from the prior year.

Canada set a new record for imports of grains in all forms in 2017/2018 and is the second largest buyer of U.S. ethanol and barley, in addition to the eighth largest market for both U.S. corn gluten feed/meal and DDGS and the ninth largest U.S. corn market.

The impact of improving market access for higher ethanol blends

Higher blends of ethanol at pumps all over the nation means additional ethanol demand and corn demand for Illinois farmers.

Establishing a higher octane minimum standard fuel for all vehicles using E-15 and E-20 blends would conservatively create an additional domestic ethanol demand of 3.4 billion gallons by 2030.  This is equivalent to an increased demand for corn of 1.11 billion bushels by 2030. 

This increase in demand for corn represents approximately half of the expected increase in corn supply by 2030 due to yield increases based on a 1.9 bushel per acre trend yield that we are seeing now.  

Why Illinois farmers need upgraded locks and dams

The lock and dam system on the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois Rivers was built in the 1930s for a 50-year life-span and a significantly less barge traffic.  Now, 80-90 years later, the system is well past its useful life with several dams seeing critical infrastructure simply crumbling and falling into the river. 

The performance we expect of these locks and dams has changed as well.  The world has changed, offering an international marketplace of which Illinois farmers are well poised to take advantage.  As volumes of grain, ethanol, and by-product exports increase, the efficiency of the locks continues to decrease.  Larger barge tows now have to split into two because the lock chambers aren’t large enough.  Efficiency lags cost money – money that is critical to the farm economy in a time when every penny counts.


For farmers, the farm bill is a very important piece of legislation.

You can read more about why we need it here.

Included in farm bills are the:

  • commodity title (which builds a safety net underneath farmers who are growing something without having any idea what the market price will be when they market),
  • crop insurance title (which builds a government-backed insurance program to protect farmers against risk),
  • conservation title (which helps farmers integrate conservation programs into their farm management and not be penalized in other programs for doing so),
  • trade (which helps America trade commodities freely with other countries),
  • nutritional title (which feeds hungry Americans all over our nation), and
  • several other titles like forestry, horticulture, research, and rural development that we pay a little less attention to in the corn industry.

The House farm bill that was passed last week included some interesting changes and updates to the previous bill.

The House maintained the two programs that existed before under the commodity title and made a few edits, mostly to improve the program and reduce administration costs.

The House increased conservation acres to  29 million and included ways to target the most fragile lands in the U.S in the conservation title.

The House established a new International Market Development Program which will be the umbrella over the trade programs we already understand and enjoy.  This is important because one of the programs was set to expire in 2018 and now it will live on under this new program.  Export is the number one market for Illinois corn so this is very important to us.

The biggest change was to the nutrition title.  This new farm bill provides that work capable adults (ages 18-59) work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week.  Exempted populations include seniors, disabled, those caring for children under six, or those who are pregnant. No one loses SNAP benefits unless they decline to work or decline free training to learn a skill.  This is a huge change from the previous nutrition program and provided the bulk of the political discord over the passage of the bill.

The House Ag Committee produced a really great fact sheet on their recently passed farm bill if you’d like to learn more.

Now we just wait for the Senate to pass their version and see what changes they believe should be made in this important farm bill.  Can’t wait!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Basic premises that we must agree on before you read this post: 
       1. Food security is important, both for America and for the world.
       2. Food security depends on farmers being able to make enough money               to farm the next year.

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics (JARE), U.S. taxpayers spend less when the government discounts farmers’ crop insurance premiums instead of relying on unbudgeted disaster aid packages.

When farmers have a major loss, often due to weather extremes like drought or tornadoes or hail storms, it benefits the American people to help those farmers make enough money to survive to farm another year (see food security premise above).  Before crop insurance, the U.S. government would hear about the major loss and Congress would often pass a disaster aid package.

This would be similar to what happened after the major hurricane events we’ve seen lately.  The disaster happens, the loss is extreme, the government steps in to help.

However, those unbudgeted needs are a strain to the national financial situation and aren’t ideal.  Also, political games can impact the timely deliver of the disaster programs and aid.

When the government pays a portion of the farmers’ crop insurance premium, it is a budgeted amount that provides farmers an incentive to protect themselves.

corn fields planter illinois

Federal crop insurance has become a pillar of U.S. farm policy in recent years and is being considered by policymakers around the world.  As it stands, farmers collectively spend $3.5 to $4 billion from their own pockets to purchase insurance protection a year.

Since crop insurance’s rise, annual disaster bills, which are fully funded by taxpayers and used to be the norm, have been largely reduced.  That’s been welcomed news for farmers since the disaster bills of the past were often politically motivated and were slow to deliver relief.

Congress is debating the farm bill right now, and this – among other topics – is a very important nuance to note.  When farmers have access to a working crop insurance program, they are partnering in the costs of the disaster losses.  Without a working crop insurance program, farmers turn to the government and tax payers fully fund the cost of the loss.

This study uses mathematical, peer reviewed data suggesting that it will be important for lawmakers to recognize the reduced insurance participation and increased likelihood for ad hoc assistance associated with the proposals being championed by farm policy critics during the ongoing Farm Bill debate.

Thank you to our source, National Crop Insurance Services.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Countries trade with each other when on their own, they do not have enough resources to satisfy their people’s needs and wants. Countries that produce a surplus of product can trade for other resources they need.

More than 25 percent of all U.S. ag production goes to markets outside of our border. Agricultural trade is a generator of income for millions of people in the industry. Trade is critical to the livelihood of the US ag sector because it spurs economic growth for our farmers and ranchers and their communities. The expansion of agricultural trade has helped provide greater quantity, wider variety, and better quality food to our growing population. Agricultural exports support more than 1 million jobs to Americans. Without our expanded trade, the ag economy as a whole would not be as strong as it is today.

When the president signed an order withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we were disappointed because we saw the TPP as a positive event for our industry as it would have added billions of dollars to our economy. Now we need to work immediately to develop new markets for our country’s goods and product interest in the Pacific region.

As Trump withdrew from this agreement, many concerns have arose from the agriculture industry producers. There are many states that really depend on trade to keep them standing. Farmers and ranchers are afraid that with this agreement, they will be losing trade and losing money. A lot of farmers are currently scared about what is happening, and if they are going to be able to keep their farms and support their families.

The livestock industry had in its sights a future of expansion and export growth. After Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, that has almost completely disappeared. We need trade agreement in place to provide an opportunity for farmers to sell their products.

There are people all over the United States that depend on exports to keep their jobs. With future export opportunities and the question if other countries are going to pick up more exports, U.S. farmers are wondering if they are going to be in trouble.

Sara Pieper
Western Illinois University


Scrolling through the archives, I found this article posted on November 10 last year.  Reading it takes me back to the uncertainty of America as she woke up following election day 2016.  Many of us were surprised by the election results and scrambling to make some sense of what would come next.  In the IL Corn office, there were also excited feelings – as following any major change in electorate – about the challenges of educating a new President about our issues and the opportunities that a new administration might hold.

Almost a year through this presidency, we’ve been on a roller coaster ride.

Back then, we were excited about the promise of a Republican-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency and the results that such an alignment might deliver.  Happily, nothing negative has happened, but neither have any positive results passed for the country.  There’s just – nothing.  This conservative voter is disappointed to see that having a majority in both houses of Congress and the Executive Office still doesn’t deliver results.

One year ago, Illinois looked forward to working with our newest member of Congress, Raja Krishnamoorthi.  This relationship couldn’t have played out better!  Congressman Krishnamoorthi is responsive to our requests and accessible to farmers.  He is interested in learning about agriculture – the economic driver of Illinois – and willing to help see farmers succeed.

Senator Duckworth is also finishing out her first year in the Senate with many accolades from IL Corn.  We appreciate her support of ethanol and her willingness to learn about the need for lock and dam upgrades, but we had experienced a positive relationship working with her in Congress and expected nothing less.

Farmers are pleased with the team President Trump has assembled for himself, specifically as relates to agriculture.  The President’s choice for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue, has been an asset leading our industry and farmers are also happy with nominations for Bill Northey, Steve Censky, Ted McKinney, and others.  We see this team coming to agriculture’s defense and helping to promote the industry as recently as last week when Sec Perdue said that withdrawing from NAFTA would have “some tragic consequences.”

Speaking of NAFTA, we worried about it one year ago and we’re still worried about trade today.  President Trump’s trade conversations have caused a bit of upheaval with our foreign customers.  IL Corn was disappointed to see America step out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and nervous to hear of a potential “cancellation” of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  At the same time, farmers have seen the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule stopped in its tracks and are mostly pleased with the administration of the Environmental Protection Agency taking more of a commonsense, science-based approach to environmental regulations.

All in all, you win some, you lose some.  I suppose that’s the way our government is designed.  A win for any one industry or any one person wouldn’t always be good for the whole, right?

Our office remains excited about the opportunity to work with the administration and the Congress towards some of our most important priorities.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Farmers are often considered to be a “jack of all trades”, and there is a reason for that.  On any given day, they can be mechanics, construction workers, scientists, and meteorologists.  What most people don’t think farmers specialize in is policy, but they do that too.  It makes sense if you think about it. There are a lot of rules when it comes to farming, and they need to stay up to date on legislative issues because they directly affect their livelihood.

They have a lot to lose

Because farmers have so much invested, they also have a lot.  In all reality, it is a wonder that farmers are able to survive in today’s economy.  It may seem like their fields of green turn into the best kind of green (money), but that is not always the case.  Farmers spend millions on their harvesters, planters fertilizers, irrigation, sheds, seeds and land but that doesn’t mean that they have millions.  Their inputs cost so much, that they need the highest prices out of their outputs possible just to stay afloat.  The government can help farmers through creating policies that help farmers yield the most out of their inputs.

Farmers are usually self-employed

In my family, my parents’ employers provide insurance and retirement, but that usually isn’t the case for farmers.  Especially if the farmer’s spouse does not have outside employment, they have to make room in their income for things that most people are provided in the workplace.  In order to afford this, they need to make their voice heard to lawmakers when it comes time to create policies like health care acts.  Farmers also need the government to support companies that give them loans to make large purchases like equipment.  Especially considering that farming is dangerous, farmers need insurance.

They care about their families

Even if they make enough to provide for their family right now, they can never be certain for the future.  Farming is a family tradition.  Most farmers have been passed down land from many generations, and they want to pass it down to their children.  When farmers get involved in legislative issues involving agriculture, it is because they care about the future of their farm.  One year yields could reach an all-time high, and the next year a drought could kill all of the crops.  On top of this, land is becoming more and more valuable with technology advancements.  Legislators need to implement policies that ensure long-term farming success, and they are more likely to listen to the farmers talk about their families than anyone else.

For some farmers, it’s a hobby

Policy is interesting. Even if a farmer runs a very successful operation, they might be involved just because they can make a difference for other farmers.  The agriculture industry is huge, and companies have plenty of representation, but what politicians like to see are the real people, like farmers, who care.

Over the summer, I was able to see how involved farmers actually are in farm policy.  They want to talk to legislators, and they want to be heard.  Because farming is so necessary to our economy, farming is highly regulated.  The people who know agriculture best are the farmers cultivating the land, which is why their voice matters the most.

Kylie Bohman
University of Illinois


It’s late July and the U.S. House of Representatives is preparing for August recess.  Congressmen and women are headed home to their districts for some one-on-one time reconnecting with constituents.

Make sure you are on their agenda.

I’m always a little shocked when I hear this because it’s never been a part of my personal reality, but the feedback I hear most often after I’ve visited the Hill with farmers is that people are shocked that they can actually sit down with their Congressman and say what’s on their minds.  AND THEIR CONGRESSMAN WILL LISTEN.

The sad fact is, the media makes our elected officials out to be monsters sometimes.  Yes, some make grave mistakes.  Yes, some are in office for the completely wrong reasons.  But the vast majority that I have met actually want to serve their districts and are trying to govern and compromise the best that they can.

Your Congressman WILL listen to what you have to say – and making an appointment with him or her when they are back in district for the month of August is the perfect time to make that connection.


  1. Call whichever district office for your Congressman is closest to you.  Ask when the Congressman will be in and make an appointment.
  2. Think about your top three concerns.  It’s hard to reduce it down to just three, but your meeting will be much more productive if you focus in on just the few most important things.
  3. Be prepared to talk about your three top priorities and how they are impacting YOU, YOUR FAMILY, YOUR COMMUNITY.  Your Congressman is much less interested in talking points, and much more interested in you.  The good thing about this one is you don’t have to look up data and statistics if that’s not what you’re good at.  You don’t have to flood the Congressman with information or justification about your worry.  You simply have to tell him or her that this issue is impacting the health of your family, your family budget, your retirement plan, etc.  Information on how much extra the concern could cost your family is relevant, but you really don’t need more data than that!
  4. When you enter the office, share your name and a business card with the staff that greets you.  Grab a business card from the office staff as well.
  5. When your Congressman is able to sit down with you, share your concerns, be respectful, and be prepared for a conversation.  He or she may disagree with the way you’d fix this particular issue and that’s ok.  Elected officials are ready to hear from folks with many different viewpoints, and can actually have their minds changed if they hear from enough of their constituents that disagree with their point of view.
  6. After the visit, email a thank you note to the staff business card you grabbed.  Ask the staff to relay your thanks to the Congressman and reiterate your three priorities.  Staff are often following issues and briefing the elected official so making sure staff understands your concerns is just as important!

That’s it!

Really, the hardest part is making yourself make that first phone call and scheduling time for an appointment – but having a relationship with your elected official is one of the most important things you can do, and a right that so many in the world don’t have.

Don’t miss August recess!  Do this today!

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


  1. TO EXPLAIN HOW THEY LIVE: It’s no secret that every single year, more and more kids leave the farm and the rural areas where they’ve grown up for the bigger cities.  Flat out, there is just more opportunity in ST. Louis or Chicago for those young Americans.  Even if they want to stay in the ag industry, they have multiple opportunities to work for the Chicago Board of Trade or for Monsanto in the bigger cities than they do in the rural areas.  The result is that many of our legislators just don’t know what it is to live on the farm or even in a rural area.  Who better to explain farm family life to them, but farmers?
  2. FARMERS ARE LESS THAN 2 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION: And even among those 2 percent, a majority will never travel to Washington, DC and will never make an appointment to see their elected official.  It means so much to those elected officials to see real farmers in their Washington, DC offices – to have someone to ask questions of and to reflect on problems with.  Farmers really ought to visit our nation’s capital more often!
  3. TO EXPLAIN HOW POLICIES MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT WORK: Because legislators aren’t always super aware of rural life or of how to farm, they need farmers in their office to talk them through potential policy ideas.  While a farm bill is being debated, for example, farmers need to be available to point out successes or pitfalls of potential policy.  How will legislators who have never farmed understand how a policy might really work on an actual farm?
  4. TO SEE HOW THEY CAN HELP: Sometimes, legislators that really do try hard to represent their district and enact policies that make a difference need help too.  An elected official might be trying to do the right thing, but media or other non-supporters in his or her district are swinging the other way, which makes the right thing difficult.  Farmers often ask how they can help their Congressman on any potential issues in the district.  If a Congressman is genuinely trying to do the right thing for his district, farmers definitely want to help that Congressman so that he or she can remain in office.
  5. TO DONATE MONEY: It takes money to get elected into Congress and to remain in Congress.  Whether that’s right or wrong, farmers will often visit Washington, DC to donate funds to the elected officials who help them on pro-farm and pro-rural life policy initiatives.  Farmer leaders want to enable the best Congressman who try to understand agriculture and rural life to remain in office.
  6. TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THE DYNAMICS OF VARIOUS POLICY INITIATIVES: Often when farmers visit Washington, DC, they are able to meet with other national associations, companies, and think tanks to gather information and get a better picture of the dynamics influencing policy decisions.  For example, if farmers really want to pass tax reform, they need to meet with other impacted parties to determine how certain tax reforms might work for them.  Perhaps there’s a negative impact that the farmers haven’t considered and the policy idea can be changed.  Perhaps many associations are in favor of the same tax fix and they can all work together to show Congress why one idea is better than another.

When IL Corn farmer leaders travel to Washington, DC, there is almost no free time!  By the time we schedule in meetings with other interested associations and companies, by the time we background ourselves on what’s going on in Washington, DC and meet with our elected officials (all 20 of them!), and by the time we participate in fundraisers for the Congressmen who have helped us, we’re running from 6 am til 9 pm and that’s no exaggeration.

But the work farmers do in D.C. is so important to protecting farm families and rural life.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director


Kristen is the Issues Manager for GROWMARK.  She communicates, educates, and advocates to policymakers and regulators on behalf of GROWMARK and the FS System. She is responsible for the territories of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio.  She also works on certain federal legislation as well.

Jacey: What inspired you to want this type of career?

Kristen: When I was a senior in high school, I attended the Women Changing the Face of Agriculture Conference and met two women who worked for Illinois Farm Bureau educating urban legislators about the importance of agricultural issues.  Up until that point, I did not know that I could combine my passion for agriculture with my interest in politics and government.  I added a Political Science minor when I got to Illinois State the following August and set my sights on a career in Government Relations for an agriculture organization.

Jacey:  What are some of your main job duties?

Kristen:  I research issues and determine the impact on GROWMARK and our member cooperatives.  I then work with legislators or regulatory officials to provide input on these proposals and try to shape the outcome of the process.  I develop position papers and written comments as well as provide legislative updates to various stakeholders.

Jacey:  How easy or difficult is it to promote agriculture agendas to legislatures who don’t come from an agriculture background?

Kristen:  It can be a challenge at times, but I have found that most legislators and their staff want to understand more about the agriculture industry.  They seek out opportunities to visit one of our facilities or a farm in their district and see the impact of a piece of legislation firsthand.  A part of my role is organizing these types of educational opportunities.  In fact, this August is our annual congressional staff tour that we coordinate in conjunction with the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association Checkoff Board.  The tour is a great opportunity for staff members of the Illinois delegation to learn more about agriculture issues and have the chance to talk to farmers one-on-one.

Jacey:  What is one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to pursue a career in agriculture?

Kristen:  One piece of advice I have is to take advantage of every opportunity to learn more about our industry.  I did not grow up on a farm and my parents do not even work in the agriculture industry, so I had a lot of learning to do. Farmers and agriculturists want to impart their knowledge on the next generation, you just have to listen and now be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know something. Never stop learning either.  One of my favorite parts about my job is learning about different agricultural crops and growing practices.  I grew up surrounded by corn and soybeans, so I enjoy learning about the production of cranberries, tomatoes, potatoes, and even ginseng while traveling throughout my territory.

Jacey Wickenhauser
Illinois State University