USDA measuring specialty crops and sales in Illinois

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

The Illinois Field Office of NASS, with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, will measure specialty crops acreage and sales in Illinois. The project is funded by a USDA grant to increase competitiveness of specialty crops. “We know Illinois consumers want to buy more locally-grown food for their own tables and see it served more often in their children’s school cafeterias,” said Illinois Ag Director, Tom Jennings. “This project allows us to better assess our local production capabilities and can shape the development of the food distribution network as it comes online. This is essential information if we’re going to build a sustainable local food production and distribution system here in Illinois.”

The goals of the project are to contact producers and measure acreage and sales from specialty crops in all parts of Illinois. For the purposes of this project, specialty crops are defined as fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs as well as horseradish.

The project will begin in January with questionnaires and return envelopes being mailed to over 3,000 Illinois producers. A second mailing will be sent out in late January. After that, follow-up phoning will begin as well as personal visits to some producers.

The purpose of the project, according to Brad Schwab, leader of NASS’s Illinois Field Office, is to accurately measure the acreage of all specialty crops in Illinois. Schwab also said, "The last detailed measurement of specialty crops was the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Since that time, the Local Food Movement has emerged and consumer interest in the quality and quantity of local food production has grown tremendously. Some new programs, such as the Farm-To-School program are just beginning to address the need for more local food information. This project will provide details on the state totals of many types of crops in Illinois. The next project to gather those statistics will be the 2012 Census of Agriculture."

Schwab stated the data provided by producers are protected and only state totals and averages will be published. Individual reports are confidential. If producers want more information, they can call the Illinois Field Office of NASS at 800-622-9865 and ask for Mark Schleusener or Greg Gholson.