What do pumpkins and popcorn have in common with Tazewell County? The pumpkin part may seem obvious, since Morton is the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World. But where does the popcorn fit in? According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, Tazewell is the second-highest county in Illinois in terms of popcorn production (while neighboring Mason County is the highest popcorn-producing county in the nation).
With regard to pumpkins, Tazewell County leads the nation in production, packing more than 80 percent of the world’s needs. Additionally, our county is the second-largest producer of all harvested vegetables in Illinois, and number eight in turkey inventory.
Tazewell County boasts nearly 950 farms within our borders, while agriculture contributed $1.4 billion and 3,556 jobs locally, according to the 2015 Illinois Agriculture Economic Contribution Study. In addition to our abundant rich farmland, Tazewell has a variety of assets that make for success in farming. Interstate highways, railroad spurs, the Illinois River with its lock and dam system, numerous grain elevators and ethanol plants are all part of the agriculture economy.
These assets give Tazewell County a worldwide footprint. Corn and soybeans are exported nationally and around the world. The popcorn grown in Tazewell is loaded in bulk containers at Weaver Popcorn in Mason County. Weaver works two shifts year-round and stores the bulk product back in our county before it is shipped around the globe. The specialty crops and vegetables grown locally are packaged and sent throughout the United States.
Another asset often overlooked is the plentiful water supply we have been blessed with, which allows over 38,500 acres of farmland to be irrigated. This irrigation is critical for vegetables and seed corn, as well as areas where sandy soil conditions in the southwest portions of the county would make it difficult to raise any crop.
The future looks very bright for agriculture in Tazewell. While the actual number of farms continues to decline, the size of these farms is growing. The County Board has implemented zoning codes that work to preserve the integrity of farming and farmland for future generations. Additionally, unlike many other rural areas in Illinois and nationally, our local population continues to grow. There are many reasons for this growth, including strong schools, low crime and proximity to shopping, among many other factors.
The recent infrastructure bill proposed by the Trump administration could also positively impact Tazewell County. The $200 billion proposal sets aside $50 billion for rural initiatives, which could be used for our roads and bridges that are vital for getting products to market. The bill also provides regulatory relief and a “One Agency, One Decision” model that will make the grant process faster and more efficient.
A healthy and productive agricultural economy is vital for a strong Tazewell County—not only from the crops grown, but the innovation it brings (Precision Planting), the construction jobs created (the new Tremont Co-Op Elevator) and the culture of hard work and integrity it helps maintain. Next time you are at the theater eating popcorn or having a piece of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, think about how fortunate we are to live in central Illinois… where we help feed the world. iBi