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John Block: Back to Illinois

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Last week, I flew to Illinois – drove down to Springfield to attend Ag Day at the Illinois State Fair. Governor Bruce Rauner, State Senator Darin LaHood, and State Representative Don Moffitt led a crowd of 1,000 people in celebrating Illinois’ number one industry – Agriculture. The ceremony featured the dedication of the Illinois Department of Agriculture administration building as the “John R. Block Building.” Broadcaster Orion Samuelson emceed the program. Phil Nelson, Illinois State Director of Agriculture, spoke. I don’t have words to express adequate appreciation.

Thank you to Illinois agriculture. My roots are in that rich, black soil.

While at the fair, I was in the hog barn and cattle barn watching the judging. That brought back memories of when I was in 4-H and FFA showing pigs.

From the Fair, I drove North 100 miles to my farm. Along the route, I observed some beautiful fields of corn and soybeans. However, in some places, you could see corn turning yellow showing signs of nitrogen deficiency. We are all looking at different yield projections. Most of them predict a big crop which is weighing heavily on prices. Hard to believe that two years ago we had $7 per bushel corn. This year, on top of the big crop, we have global pressure on all commodities. The U.S. strong dollar makes our agriculture exports more expensive.

It’s an understatement, but everything that is going on creates a lot of uncertainty. The stock market has crashed. Where do we go from here?

To get things in to perspective, I walked in my corn fields. Every stalk has a nice ear. Wet spots have suffered some because we had so much rain. I think our beans are better than our corn. I am grateful for what I think will be a good crop. I expect a corn yield of 200 bushels/acre, and soybeans at 65 bushels per acre. That’s about the same as last year. After harvest, I will tell you how far off I am.

I feel that the Ag industry still has reason to celebrate, even with lower prices. The global demand for food is still going to be strong. We have low interest rates on money borrowed. The U.S. unemployment is 5.2 percent – not bad. Ag industry debt is historically low. Farm land prices are holding steady. Farming has always been like riding a roller coaster. Just hang on.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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