By Tim Alexander
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker urged eligible farmers to apply for state-level pandemic relief and delivered on a couple of promises he made to the agricultural community on August 17, Agriculture Day, at the Illinois State Fair.
“Support for our farmers and our farm families has been a priority of mine and of the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle. We directed millions of dollars in pandemic relief through the Business Interruption Grant (BIG) program to help livestock producers who were hit hard early in the pandemic. And because we know that some family businesses and small businesses are still working to overcome pandemic losses, I’ve launched a new $250 million Back to Business (B2B) support program for all small businesses including family farms,” said Pritzker, who also announced last week he would seek re-election in 2022.
Pritzker’s “B2B” grant program, part of his overall economic recovery strategy, was launched the following day, August 18. Businesses with revenues of $20 million or less in 2019 and a reduction in revenue in 2020 due to COVID-19 may qualify, though priority will be given to those in hard-hit industries in hard-hit areas, businesses who have yet to qualify for state funding or federal assistance (including the Paycheck Protection Program and Business Interruption Grant), and businesses that had less than $5 million in revenue in 2019.
Small farms in need of help can apply through www.dceo.illnois.gov for a grant, the governor said.
In addition, on Agriculture Day the Democratic Illinois governor signed into law HB 3218 and SB 1624, which adds agricultural sciences as a course option for the science category and agricultural education as a course option for the elective category as part of the required high school coursework for university admission. The expansion of agricultural education options was made possible by students, teachers, FFA clubs, and lawmakers working to ensure high school students in Illinois can access the tools they need to continue our proud Illinois agriculture tradition, Pritzker acknowledged.
The companion bills were introduced by Rep. Nicholas Smith (D-Chicago) and Sen. Doris Turner (D-Carlinville), respectively.
“I introduced this bill to help high school students who want to pursue a career in agriculture,” said Smith. “This legislation will give high school students certainty that the agriculture science course they take in high school will be accepted by all public universities in Illinois. I hope this legislation helps encourage more of our youth to look at agriculture as a career path in college.”
In addition, Pritzker signed into action HB 1879, which designates penicillium rubens, the active microbe in penicillin, as the official state microbe of Illinois. The designation recognizes the contribution of Mary K. Hunt, also known as Moldy Mary, and the Northern Regional Research Library – now known as the USDA National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research (NCAUR) in Peoria. Due to their research and work, penicillin’s yield soared at a time when demand was high across the world during World War II, helping America and its Allies win the war.
“It’s no secret that penicillin production is an achievement Peoria takes great pride in – but as of today, it becomes a point of pride for all of Illinois, with new status as our official state microbe,” said Pritzker. “The additional legislation will help Illinois not lose any more Marys to history by recognizing the value of agricultural science in our education system for students of all backgrounds. By supporting our young learners who want to take ag sciences through to a university education – and beyond – Illinois is diversifying what it means to learn, to grow, to innovate – and to set the stage for our future generations to live their dreams.”
Earlier in the day, Pritzker joined Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II and other members of the state’s agricultural community for the annual “Director’s Breakfast on the Lawn,” which drew hundreds of attendees after being cancelled due to the pandemic in 2020.
“Agriculture plays a central role in the lives of Illinoisans and the nation, thanks to the grit, tenacity and ingenuity of our farmers,” Pritzker remarked, before detailing efforts his administration has undertaken on behalf of rural Illinoisans. “(We have) invested over $150 million in strengthening our rural hospitals, billions of dollars on our rural roads, bridges and ports so we can get our goods to market, and $400 million for broadband.
“Rural broadband, rural Illinois, rural families are worth fighting for. I implore our general assembly, our county leaders, and our local elected officials to continue to do that in ways both large and small.”
The breakfast was also attended by guest speaker Illinois Lt. Gov. Julianna Stratton, who is chair of the governor’s rural affairs committee, and Jerry Costello II, Illinois Agriculture Director, who emceed the event and offered remarks. Also attending were former state agriculture directors John Block, Chuck Hartke and many others.
In addition, 358 centennial farms were recognized during the IDOA Director’s Breakfast, along with newly elected FFA youth leaders and the 2021 Illinois County Fair Queen, Kelsi Kessler of White County.