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Rural Development, Broadband Expansion Top Goals for Illinois State Agriculture Director

The following was published by Journal Gazette & Times Courier on March 18, 2019 
by Rob Stroud 

MATTOON -- Rural economic development is among the stated top priorities for new Illinois Department of Agriculture Director John Sullivan.

The new director discussed rural development and other priorities, including promoting jobs in agriculture education, during his presentation Monday in the Lake Land College Field House as part of the annual Rural-Urban Luncheon organized by the Mattoon Rotary Club and the Charleston Rotary Club.

Sullivan, a farmer and a former Democratic state senator from Rushville, has been on the job for about two months since being appointed by newly elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

In addition to handling the agriculture director's traditional responsibilities, Sullivan said he has also become the governor's spokesman for increasing broadband access for reliable, high speed internet service. He said this will be particularly helpful in rural areas where internet service is "spotty at best."

Sullivan said he will advocate for the new state budget to include money to help improve rural broadband service. He said reliable service will help farmers and others who operate businesses in rural areas improve their operations.

"What we are trying to do is not just for agriculture, it's for rural development," Sullivan said.

Rural development was a common theme with some of Sullivan's other stated priorities, as well. Sullivan said he will have input on infrastructure spending proposals. He said funding for additional "river, road, and rail" related improvements is needed to help farmers get their crops from the field to processors.

"I believe that agriculture is where the future is in regard to job creation, not just in the state of Illinois, but around the country," Sullivan said, adding that these jobs are not just for those with farm backgrounds.

Sullivan said there will be approximately 95 job openings for agriculture education instructors next fall at public schools in Illinois, but there are projected to only be enough applicants to fill half of these posts. He said more students are needed to become agriculture educators, adding that he is seeking additional state funding to help meet this need.

The director said other projects he has been tasked with include carrying out stronger regulations for dicamba while ensuring this herbicide's continued availability, preparing for the growing of industrial hemp to become legal this year in Illinois, and overseeing the regulation of medical marijuana cultivation and production.

Cumberland FFA Chapter President Jacob Mayes, who is also president of Section 20, said after Sullivan's presentation that he was glad to have the opportunity to meet the state's top agriculture official. Mayes said he also appreciates that Sullivan promised to stay educated on current issues in agriculture and advocate for the best interest of Illinois agriculture.

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