SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WMBD) – Farmers from across the state flocked to the State Fair Tuesday for the yearly Ag Day breakfast, where lawmakers and leaders join to celebrate the role of community agriculture in the Illinois economy.

Hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), the event featured a breakfast buffet a speaking program, and awards. IDOA Director Jerry Costello II hosted the speakers, including IL Gov. JB Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, and students in the Future Farmers of America (FFA) organization.

The event not only celebrated the work of family farms that have been in operation for hundreds of years, but speakers also stressed the need for the farming industry to continue strong into the future.

Lt. Gov. Stratton, who runs the Ag Connects Us All initiative for agricultural equity, is known for being a passionate supporter of local farmers throughout her term.

“Our farmers carry on a rich legacy of providing for us and innovating so that we can all appreciate where our food comes from and the land that supports it,” said Stratton. “The ingenuity and passion of the people in Illinois ag are the reason it’s our state’s largest industry.”

Stratton also led a group of Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences students and FFA members in a round of thank yous to local farmers.

“Thank you local farmers. Thank you for all that you do. If you weren’t so good at your jobs, we wouldn’t have any food, clothes, or other necessary commodities to live our everyday lives,” said Kylie Norwood, a rising senior. “Arguably, your job is the toughest job in the world, but it is also the most important.”

Treasurer Frerichs, who comes from a family farm that has been operating for 100 years, knows how hard the job can be. He spoke of his agricultural responsibilities growing up, including a job using BB gun to shoot rats at a grain elevator.

The treasurer’s office hosts the Cream of the Crop Photo Contest at the State Fair each year, to encourage young farmers to capture in a photo “what ag means to me.” The award ceremony for these future farmers takes place Tuesday afternoon.

On top of engagement with the next generation of farmers, Frerichs’ office also invests capital into the agricultural industry through their Ag Invest Loan Program, which makes loans directly accessible to farmers. Since the program’s inception, Frerichs said, farmers have been awarded a total of more than $4 billion.

Earlier Tuesday at breakfast, Costello honored award winners at the event with cash prizes to invest in their family farms. Among the winners was a local Bellflower farmer.

McLean County farmer Matt Turner, 27, is a fourth-generation grower. He works with his father-in-law and brother-in-law to raise conventional, non-GMO corn and soybeans. He received a 2022 FreshRoots Directors Cup award of $5,000 for his continuous learning and intentional living for a brighter future for his family’s farm and their community.

To top off the celebration, Gov. Pritzker announced a new initiative to encourage agricultural education across Illinois. Moving forward, Pritzker said, the state of Illinois will pay FFA membership dues for every student taking agricultural classes, so that money is no longer a barrier for a well-rounded farming education.

“This isn’t just an investment in our students,” Pritzker said. “It’s an investment in our economy, in our families, and in our entire ag community.”

The Illinois Department of Agriculture hosts the Illinois State Fair and works to support farmers and the agricultural industry across the state. Learn more about the department at their website.