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Illinois Agribusiness Cooking Up Recipe for Success

With its rich farmland and plentiful food manufacturing firms, Illinois has all the ingredients for agribusiness success.

By Gary Wollenhaupt on May 26, 2015

Illinois / Brian McCord

Illinois has all the ingredients to make it a leading agribusiness state. The state has few rivals for its breadth and depth of farming, food production, food research and technology. An ideal climate mix and excellent soils help 74,300 farms in the state grow and raise a variety of agricultural commodities, some $19 billion annually. Illinois ranks third among states in the export of agriculture products. Farming is the foundation of the state’s thriving agribusiness, exemplified by Jim and Mary Burrus, owners of Indian Creek Farm in Jacksonville in Morgan County, where they raise grass-fed beef cattle and pastured poultry.

In 2014, the Burruses were recognized by the Illinois Department of Agriculture as its 2014 Sustainable Agriculture Farmers of the Year. Indian Creek direct-markets about 40 head of certified-organic, grass-fed beef to customers each year and direct-markets 250 Cornish cross chickens that are raised organically. “We get a lot of support from the state Department of Agriculture,” says Burrus, who is also active in Central Illinois’ “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” program. Exports are a major part of Illinois’ agribusiness economy. Tim Seifert of RTS Farms in Auburn is a major proponent of Illinois farms helping to feed the world. Seifert, who farms about 2,800 acres of corn and soybeans, offers his expertise to tour groups and has traveled on trade missions.

“We have the technology to grow most anything efficiently,” says Seifert, who credits the state Department of Agriculture as a key resource in keeping him informed on new market opportunities and trends. One of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. is Brandt Consolidated Inc., based in Springfield. Brandt is a major supplier of products that help farms grow and protect their crops. The company has opened a new headquarters in Springfield, and has acquired several businesses that have expanded its capabilities to serve farms and the public. Some of its new expansion has come in the lawn and tree care sector. Rick Brandt, the company’s president and CEO, says he and his management team have tried to build a company that stays ahead of the market and is an attractive place to work. “Illinois is an ideal location for our business,” Brandt says. “We have great soils and an agricultural community that stays ahead of the curve.” Brandt says cooperation in the state is a two-way street. “We travel over the world and bring our expertise back to share with farmers here, and they share with us what they need,” he says.

Illinois Leads in Food Production

Illinois’ food production companies have the advantage of a world-class food safety research facility in the state, the Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH) at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. The institute helps food companies and government and academic organizations in the areas of food safety, food defense and nutrition. The institute is credited with helping Illinois food firms produce safe and wholesome foods. The state’s deep agricultural roots have nourished a robust food production sector that includes major operations for Kraft, Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto. In all, Illinois has nearly 325 food processing and 90 agribusiness operations with at least 50 employees, and 2,600 food manufacturers in total.

One is Hodgson Mill in Effingham. Bob and Cathy Goldstein, owners of Hodgson Mill, use Illinois grains to produce whole-grain cereals like muesli and steel- cut oats, whole wheat and Ultragrain pastas produced with traditional grinding stones for milled flours and meals. Growing up on a farm, Bob Goldstein honed his passion abroad, learning the fine art of milling from experts in Switzerland and England and pasta manufacturing in Italy. Hodgson Mill has grown from a local business into a national leader in whole grain products, with more than 140 employees at its milling, grinding and packaging facility. The company has also kept pace with market demands, providing items like gluten-free foods and organic pasta to national grocery chains. The company also has taken a leading role in the most prominent globally known certifications and associations. It continues to expand, recently building a sales and marketing office as well as opening a retail store. A product training center and a café are in the works that will feature products crafted with freshly made Illinois grains.

“We are market–based. Listening to what people want and providing quality products is what has helped us remain successful,” Goldstein says.

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