At the Peoria County Pomona Grange’s Annual Labor Day Picnic September 12, 1912, at Alta, a discussion took place about opportunities for farm people to form a sponsoring organization for county extension work. An organizing committee was formed, and a short time later, met and took steps toward creating the sponsoring organization—The Peoria County Farm Bureau, which was then incorporated in 1917.
Peoria County Farm Bureau
The early history of the Peoria County Farm Bureau is a story of earnest people coping with two obvious problems—finance, and convincing farmers of the soundness of the program. In 1913, the first year of operation, few of the 3,500 farmers and landowners in the area were willing to invest the $1 per year to support the program.
Membership dues remained at $1 per year in 1914 and were 10 cents per acre in 1915; from 1916 to 1918, membership dues were $10 per year. By this time, the organization had a sound program, and it started to grow. Membership ebbed and flowed with the economic conditions on farms during the years.
Zealy M. Holmes, a member of the executive committee during the very early years, said in 1917, "I most firmly believe that as an organization we have been of great help and benefit to the farmer of this county from many points of view. I think that if all will continue to cooperate in the future as in the past years, greater good can be accomplished."
Holmes was one of many farm leaders in Peoria County. He served as president of the Peoria County Farm Bureau from 1917 through 1923, and was director and vice president of the Illinois Agricultural Association.
His home can still be seen today—it was moved approximately 10 years ago from the City of Peoria to Three Sisters Park, south of Chillicothe. You can see the large, white, two-story house on the crest of a hill on the park premises. It is part of the park’s living history farm.
There are 23 farmers who serve on the Peoria County Farm Bureau board of directors. Each of the 19 townships in Peoria County is served by one director, and the four officers are elected at large. "Today we have approximately 1,600 farmer members. To hold a voting membership in the organization, an individual must have at least $2,500 of gross annual farm income. This can be from the sale of farm commodities such as corn, soybeans and livestock; the sale of more specialized commodities such as fruit or Christmas trees, or the member may own farmland and receive cash rent payments or a share of the harvested crop," said Patrick Kirchhofer, Farm Bureau manager.
The Farm Bureau is a grassroots organization. Members give guidance, set policy, and fund the organization. "Along with our board, we have several committees including: public relations, local affairs, legislative, Ag-In-The-Classroom, marketing, membership, Viewpoint, and sports," said Kirchhofer. "We also have a Prime Timers group who are our more experienced members and meet once a month, and a Young Farmers group that have done some quality programs for the community, such as designing and posting the Farm Country—Stay Alert signs along rural roads."
Probably the biggest change in the organization, according to Kirchhofer, is the steady and continuous drop in farmer members. "This is reflective of the farm community in general as farmer numbers continue to decline. In reality, farmer numbers have been declining for the last 50 years. Technology has changed so that less labor is required on today’s farms. Farmers are utilizing conservation tillage practices, which means there is a reduced number of trips across a field and hours of labor needed per acre. Equipment is much larger than in the past. Twenty five years ago a six-row planter was the most common size. Today, you will often see a 12 or 24 row planter in the field," he said.
In the past five years, biotechnology has been the biggest change in production agriculture, he explained. "Biotechnology or GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) has been readily adopted by farmers. It’s making farming safer, easier and more efficient. GMO corn and soybeans have traits inserted in them so the growing plant is able to ward off certain pests or tolerate specific herbicides. With this new technology farmers are able to reduce the amount of herbicides and use safer herbicides. This benefits all of us with cleaner air and water," Kirchhofer said.
And as long as it’s been around, many people still have the wrong idea about the Farm Bureau’s purpose. "The biggest misconception people have is that we only support the large farm corporations or the mega-livestock farms. This isn’t true. First of all, the strength of the organization lies in numbers—farmer numbers. We are financially supported by farmers who belong to the organization. They pay annual dues, which in turn supports programs they desire. Supporting a few so-called corporate farms, which in turn reduces farmer numbers, and in essence our organization’s funding, just doesn’t make financial sense. A larger pool of people involved in agriculture production gives the organization an opportunity to grow," Kirchhofer said. "Farms can also become more efficient with economies of scale. The higher the volume, the cheaper the price."
Another misconception people seem to have about the Farm Bureau is that it’s financed by tax dollars. "We do not receive taxpayer funds. We are financially supported by membership dues and income from assets owned, such as building rental. The Farm Bureau is a not-for-profit volunteer organization. Members decide each year whether or not they want to support the Farm Bureau."
The Farm Bureau markets its products and services through newsletters to its membership, and news releases to the media. "Although we do market a few products through the Peoria County Farm Bureau office—such as soy candles, citrus, plat books and cleaning products made from farm commodities, and have networked with businesses that offer discounts to members— our primary focus is on providing services and information to the membership. Services such as commercial drivers license training courses, health screenings, and lobbying efforts," he said.
As industries across the nation continue to change with the times, the Ag industry is no different. "Our organization is going to have to be adaptable going forward as the farm sector continues to change. Today, the traditional grain and livestock farmer who farms 250 to 300 acres and derives the entire household income from the farm is becoming a rarity," Kirchhofer said. "Most of today’s farmers have another source of income, whether it’s selling seed corn or off-farm employment at another business, such as Caterpillar. One of the biggest reasons for off-farm employment is the benefits—especially insurance. Farmers have to purchase their own insurance, and often premiums can run $8,000 to $10,000 annually."
The issues facing today’s farmers are endless and ongoing, according to Kirchhofer. "One day the issue might be getting the hay baled before the next storm hits, and the next day the issue could be a bill that is on the floor of the General Assembly that is unfavorable to agriculture. Farmers are the eternal optimists in our society. Every Spring you will find them right back in the same fields, putting in long hours of hard work, with the hope that they will be harvesting another year’s income in the Fall."
Illinois Farm Bureau
The Illinois Farm Bureau was started January 26, 1916, when representatives of a loosely-knit group of county agricultural organizations got together. The meeting took place in Davenport Hall on the University of Illinois campus. The decision was made to form the Illinois Agricultural Association. The first office of the Illinois Farm Bureau was located in the Edison Building at 72 West Adams Street in Chicago. In 1961, the Illinois Farm Bureau moved its offices to Bloomington.
Within months of organizing, a resolution was passed by the statewide group to support legislation regarding grain trade, and plans were made for securing a pure-seed law and for repealing the method of collecting personal and real estate taxes. The organization also resolved to seek appointments to the State Livestock Commission that would include farmers and a veterinarian. Within one year, cooperative-buying efforts had begun. Purchases included such items as tires and seeds.
"To put it briefly, the story of Farm Bureau is simply the account of people who believe the most effective action on a given problem can be achieved through concerted cooperative effort. With faith in this principle and loyalty to the organization, there has always been a nucleus of dedicated men and women who have been the moving force of the organization," Kirchhofer said.
The 2001 mission statement of the Illinois Farm Bureau is to "improve the economic well-being of agriculture and enrich the quality of farm family life." This has always been the vision of the Farm Bureau organization. IBI