A Publication of WTVP

Several years ago, representatives of Illinois food and agriculture organizations launched the Vision for Illinois Agriculture, an industry-wide effort aimed at increasing the competitiveness of the state in the global marketplace. The following represent the three goals for the future of the Illinois food and agriculture industry:

GOAL #1: Grow agricultural production and exports to a top-three ranking in the United States through the growth of both commodity and value-added production. Global trends show developing countries continuing their economic growth, and this has resulted in an increased demand for food consumption. Although the United States remains the leader in total GDP, other countries have experienced greater growth rates. Historically, as a country’s GDP continues to grow, so does its demand for more complex food, and thus, agricultural inputs.

The local agriculture infrastructure of developing countries has not kept up with this growth, which has increased the strain on the international markets. The United States remains one of the most efficient producers of grain products, and Illinois stands in the top two of U.S. states with its inherent combination of transportation and fertile land.

Competition from countries such as Brazil remains strong. The costs of inputs, land and labor remain low in Brazil and similar countries, though none can match the fertile land and current delivery mechanism of the United States heartland. This is not to say that Illinois’ transportation advantage will continue. Brazil has recognized the opportunity in feeding the growing world. They have started to develop their infrastructure to overcome their higher transportation costs.

To continue to be competitive, Illinois will need to focus on strategies to enhance current strengths. Infrastructure can benefit from modernization and technology to provide low transportation costs. Biotechnology proves to increase productivity, but the cost of doing so needs to be examined and optimized. Labor remains a higher cost and the issue of immigrant labor needs political attention. Additionally, the state needs to find ways to efficiently process inputs and use by-products.

GOAL #2: Enable food manufacturing growth to a top-three ranking in the United States. The state of Illinois is well positioned to create a competitive advantage over other states in the area of food manufacturing. In 2004, the state’s GDP was ranked sixth in the United States. The number-one food manufacturer in the country, Kraft, and six other top-100 manufacturers are located in the state, and the city of Chicago also provides a high demand for food.

GOAL #3: Lead the United States as the alternative bio-based outcomes leader through the adoption of new technologies. As populations grow in number and affluence, there will be an increasing demand for bio-based outcomes such as energy, chemicals and food. Petroleum depletion and its environmental effects have motivated research and development to reduce and replace its consumption. Food sources will require additional innovation to support the demand of the growing population and its interest in health. These trends demonstrate an opportunity for economic growth in the area of research and innovation in agriculture.

While Illinois has the second largest production of corn, the state is third in ethanol production capacity in the United States behind Iowa and Nebraska. Although the two states are at near-parity for corn production, Iowa has twice the ethanol production capacity of Illinois.

Although Illinois is second in soybean production, the state is third in biodiesel production capacity. Illinois has an opportunity to further grow biodiesel capacity and thus advance processing soybeans and increase the state’s GDP. Furthermore, six of the top 10 states for biodiesel production are not located within the Midwest. This provides Illinois with a competitive advantage of having production close to input supply.

The following strategic themes were identified to accomplish the established goals:

  1. Attract and train the necessary human and capital resources to support initiatives aimed at growing the food and agriculture industries. Develop a collaborative state-wide partnership to provide education and workforce development direction and oversight in the food and agriculture segment. Define and deliver effective methods to attract and retain a larger share of top talent in the food and agriculture sector, and attract capital and investment to the state.
  2. Create a favorable business environment to nurture economic development in the state. Encourage and act on public/private partnerships to build the case for the importance of food and agriculture to the state’s economic development growth. Advocate reforms to achieve fiscal integrity and encourage business growth. Collaborate with non-food and agriculture business groups to increase awareness of solutions to improve the business climate. Reform and streamline regulatory policy, optimize natural resources, create incentives for technology innovation and commercialization, and strengthen infrastructure.
  3. Improve community vitality. Collaborate with USDA Rural Development to launch an annual community vitality forum showcasing best practices and success stories from various parts of the state. Establish a Grow Rural Illinois initiative aimed at bringing stakeholders together to develop a long-range plan for ensuring rural and community vitality in the future. Lead efforts in establishing regional and community strategic plans, develop community-based mentoring programs, and develop and implement tools to support business growth in small communities.
  4. Advance intellectual and innovation resources. Position Illinois as a product and market innovation center for food and agriculture, encourage technology commercialization in food and agricultural domains, and attract and retain top R&D and management level talent from a global marketplace.
  5. Act as a catalyst in forming strategic partnerships aimed at growing and sustaining the food and agriculture industries. Invest in building the current and future leadership capacity of the state and build partnerships with organizations throughout the world. iBi

This article was condensed from the final report of the Vision for
Illinois Agriculture project and is reprinted with permission. For more
information about the project or to read the report in its entirety, visit