The Illinois Agricultural Leadership Program (IALP) Class of 2018 participants recently explored innovation and change in rural economic development and agriculture technology. The “Farm Credit Services Innovation & Change Seminar,” sponsored by Farm Credit Illinois and Compeer Financial, included presentations at various locations throughout rural southwestern Illinois and Missouri. The IALP is sponsored by the Illinois Agricultural Leadership Foundation (IALF).
The class explored issues in rural economic development, starting with a presentation by Alan Wattles, President & CEO of Monroe County Electric Cooperative, on “The Importance of the Cooperative.” A panel discussion of “Leading Rural America” followed, with panelists Matt McClelland, Director of Operations for Prairie Farms Dairy, Lee Strom, former Chairman of the Farm Credit Administration, and Alan Wattles. An engaging discussion was held with class members regarding the ways that rural and agricultural cooperatives are leading the industry and serving their members today.
The session that followed was led by Gisele Hamm, Program Manager for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, focusing on the “MAPPING the Future of Your Community” initiative. Hamm discussed the efforts being made to revitalize and reinvigorate rural communities, bringing relevant services and economic development to local areas.
The first day of the seminar ended with a tour of Prairie Farms Dairy’s processing facility in Granite City, Illinois. Created eighty years ago, Prairie Farms is a dairy cooperative that serves dairy farmers across the Midwest and provides dairy products to multi-national companies. The tour of the Granite City facility highlighted innovations and modernization of dairy processing, including ultra-high temperature pasteurization. Prairie Farms Dairy employees Matt McClelland, an alumnus of the IALP Class of 2010, and Katie Mansouri, current participant in the IALP Class of 2018, hosted and led the group through the plant tour.
The second day of the seminar, the class spent the morning at Eckert’s Farm in Belleville, Illinois. Lary Eckert (IALP Class of 1984) and his son Chris (IALP Class of 2004) talked to the class about their family business and the ways that they are innovating in the agritourism industry. Eckert’s Farm has demonstrated leadership in agriculture with expanded operations in Kentucky, and expanded operations at home with new produce and local events.
The Eckerts family provided participants with an in-depth tour of crops grown locally, the process for harvesting and maintenance, and the Country Store. The morning ended with lunch at Eckert’s Country Restaurant.
The final seminar segment took the class to Monsanto Company’s world headquarters, where participants heard from Dion McBay, Global Sustainability Lead, and Luke Samuel, Commercial Product Director for The Climate Corporation. Both speakers focused on Monsanto’s focus on sustainability, technology, and innovation through interaction with farmers and the agricultural community.
The seminar’s concluding session was led by Mindy McDermott, an alumnus of the IALP Class of 2006. A former agriculture teacher who now works as a Learning and Development Specialist for The Climate Corporation, McDermott stressed the importance of “Supporting Innovation through Agricultural Education in Rural Schools” during her presentation, highlighting ways the agriculture community can support updates to local education and agriculture programs.