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Farmers told they need to embrace change

Published on 16 March, 2006, Last updated at 23:17 GMT

16th Mar, 2006 - Evolving agricultural changes may affect Central Illinois farmers unfairly unless they embrace the change and even prompt innovation, according to a Growmark Inc. grain system specialist.

Larry Keene, Growmark's grain, risk management and value enhanced products director, shared his vision for agriculture's future Wednesday with about 350 people attending the McLean County Chamber of Commerce annual ag breakfast at the Interstate Center.

"There are fewer than 1.9 million farmers. Eight percent account for more than 70 percent of output," said Keene. "We did a survey of 3,500 farmers that showed 43 percent owned semi-trucks, while 19 percent had semi-trucks in 1996. While farmers harvested 7,062 bushels of grain per day in 1996, they harvested 12,424 bushels per day in 2004. We need to look at our grain infrastructure to accommodate those changes."

Keene also described an agricultural industry made up of fewer, larger agribusinesses and improved technology. He noted several existing and emerging "designer" grains developed for a specific purpose such as high-protein poultry feed or increased starch content for ethanol fuel processing.

"On Jan. 1, U.S. companies started labeling foods according to trans fat content. Several low linolenic acid soybean varieties have been developed to reduce those fats and still retain stability and shelf life. Iowa will grow 500,000 acres of low lin beans this year," said Keene. "High sucrose bean will contain fewer carbohydrates that cause digestive problems in humans. With 40 percent more sucrose content, they'll taste better, too."

Keene said Illinois farmers raised 48-bushel-per-acre corn in 1944 compared to an average of 184 bushels per acre in 2004, for a total of 2.2 billion bushels. That overall output could reach 2.5 billion bushels by 2013, Keene said.

"The question is will demand be there. Illinois has great potential for ethanol growth."

'Twenty plants are under construction in Illinois alone. We also have good river export markets and grain processing. We'll see an increase in the 24 percent of grain leaving the state by rail," predicted Keene. "Farmers and agribusinesses will need to adopt change and lead the way, or change may not be fair."

Following Keene's speech, breakfast participants passed a hat and collected $1,250 for the John Maitland Agriculture Awareness Grant program.

John Maitland, a retired state senator from rural Bloomington, and his wife, Joanne, will match the amount.

Andrew Thomas, son of Rich and Angie Thomas of Bloomington, won a T-shirt and $100 U.S. Savings Bond for drawing the best ag breakfast placemat. His fifth-grade teacher is Amanda Donahue.


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