Food Production

Illinois has more than 74,000 farms covering some 27 million acres, or about 75% of the state’s total land area.

Agricultural commodities in Illinois generate more than $19 billion annually, and billions more from agriculture-related industries.

Unfortunately, Illinois’ agricultural operations often lead to the contamination of our water resources. About 20% of our rivers have been degraded due to the production of crops.
food production

food production

Farms cover about 75% of the Illinois' total land area.

Habitat & Wildlife

Native Illinois habitats are changing and disappearing.

Food Production in Illinois

Illinois is a leading producer of soybeans, corn, and swine. We also produce cattle, wheat, oats, sorghum, hay, sheep, poultry, fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops, such as buckwheat, horseradish, ostriches, fish, and Christmas trees. Illinois has one of the highest concentrations of large-scale factory farms in the nation. There are approximately 30,000 livestock operations in the state, including around 500 large CAFOs and 5.4 million egg-laying hens.
 
Unfortunately, Illinois’ agricultural operations often lead to the contamination of our water resources. Damages include soil erosion, which leads to sedimentation in waterways; nutrient pollution from phosphorus and nitrogen contained in fertilizer and animal manure; and pesticide pollution. Additionally, over 600 miles of streams and 25,000 acres of lakes in Illinois have been polluted by CAFOs, making these facilities one of the top causes for pollution in rivers and lakes. Illinois has over 87,000 miles of rivers and streams that join the Mississippi River and is a significant contributor of the nitrogen and phosphorus pollution causing the Gulf of Mexico dead zone.
Illinois can address some of these critical issues by incentivizing farming processes that have less of a negative impact on the environment. For example, sustainable agriculture is a form of farming that grows crops using methods that protect the environment. This form of farming ensures a healthy community and ecosystem. Organic farming produces products using methods that preserve the environment and avoid most synthetic materials, such as pesticides and antibiotics. USDA organic standards describe how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use. These standards cover the product from farm to table, including soil and water quality, pest control, livestock practices, and rules for food additives. And encouraging consumers to “buy local” supports farmers that are members of the larger community, takes seriously their roles of stewards of the land, and who may be farming using more sustainable or organic methods. Illinois already ranks fifth in the nation for the number of farmers markets.
 
In addition, Illinois can support urban agriculture, which has risen in popularity in recent years due to an interest in local food sources, farmers markets and transforming small parcels of vacant land into areas of production, as well as urban land’s close proximity to markets. Urban farms grow food that is intended to be sold, either on a nonprofit or for-profit basis. In Chicago, urban agriculture can be found in neighborhoods, in parks, on rooftops, and even at its airports. Urban farming increases the amount of nutritious food available to people living in under-served communities (for example, more than 500,000 Chicagoans live in “food deserts”), addresses the rising environmental and economic cost of shipping food, and supplies jobs and creates social connections for inner-city residents.

Current Food Production Laws

The Food, Farms, and Jobs Council is putting a large amount of effort into creating self-reliant food communities that not only benefit small business, but provide jobs for the working class. The benefits are similar to that seen with farmers markets.

In addition to growing local food, processing and selling food locally is important to encourage the sales of local food and develop local economies. The cottage food operations act gives regulatory guidelines on how “non-hazardous” foods made in a home kitchen such as baked goods and canned goods can be sold and distributed. These products are labeled as homemade and the seller cannot gross more than $25,000 annually in sales. This legislation was passed in 2011 and changes were made in 2014.

A bill, HB3063, passed in 2017 now allows food, such as baked goods, but excluding most meats, that hasn’t been inspected to still be sold at farmers markets.

Rural farms are exempt from IEPA permitting for composting if the operation is kept to less than 2% of the size of the property. This exemption was extended to urban farms in 2013. In addition, regulatory barriers to community garden composting were removed in 2013 through state government. The city of Chicago has adopted these new changes to create an urban farm and community garden compost operation through ordinance.
Rural farms are exempt from IEPA permitting for composting if the operation is kept to less than 2% of the size of the property. This exemption was extended to urban farms in 2013. In addition, regulatory barriers to community garden composting were removed in 2013 through state government. The city of Chicago has adopted these new changes to create an urban farm and community garden compost operation through ordinance.

Food Production Updates

2018 Session in Review

The Illinois General Assembly adjourned on May 31st after passing a budget, which was signed by Governor Rauner the morning of June 4th. Read our...

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