A Note from the Illinois Specialty Crop Growers Association Chairman

From Randy Graham, ISGA Chairman
Co-Owner of Curtis Orchard

The State of Illinois No Longer has an Entomologist for Specialty Crops

Since Rick Weinzierl’s retirement in May 2016, Illinois has operated without an entomologist for specialty crops. Rick has remained visible working as a private consultant and writing for the Illinois Fruit and Vegetable News, so many people may not have realized he retired. However, Rick has made it clear that this is the last year he intends to remain involved. Next year he will be “fully” retired, as one would expect.

The research Rick conducted and managed while at the University ended over two years ago. This puts all specialty growers in a very dangerous situation.

First, some positive developments:

At an event in Champaign I met State Representative Brad Halbrook of the 102nd District. I asked him if he thought it strange that Illinois employs no entomologist for fruit, vegetable, and herb crops grown in the state.

He looked at me rather shocked and asked me to tell him more. I did and explained that Illinois Specialty Growers Association is committed to partnering with the University of Illinois to find permanent solutions for funding extension.

Rep. Halbrook started spreading word of our plight in both the Illinois House and Senate. He followed through immediately with the actions he told me he would take. He ultimately asked me to write a letter for both the House and Senate Ag Committees outlining the situation, which I did in the second week of May 2018.

I took an economic approach in my letter, making the case that Ag revenues play a big role in financing the state budget and that specialty crops are a significant segment of both agriculture and tourism.

We also employ more workers per acre than any other segment of agriculture.

I said that any investment by the State Legislature to sustain extension would ultimately be multiplied back many times over through increased revenue to the state from a thriving industry.

Thanks to some groundwork laid by Matt Klein, IVGA Treasurer, earlier in the year, I was able to host a dinner at Curtis Orchard on May 15th to bring together leadership from the University of Illinois, ISGA, and government.

We had a very productive evening and I was encouraged to see firsthand how well our goals align. We need to continue with open communication and I have committed to doing anything I can to assist on your behalf in making extension solutions a reality.

University of Illinois is developing a program called IDEA.

As the University’s IDEA program takes shape, we will keep you informed as to how we plan to implement it. Unfortunately, the other extension specialists we rely on are also nearing retirement. The problem is only going to get worse unless we do something about it—NOW. By now you may be asking, “Well what can I do? I’m just a grower trying to make a living and I don’t have a lot of time or money to spare.”

I understand your concerns because I’m in the same boat, but the fact is, we all need to get involved on some level if we expect a solution, and I intend to provide concrete steps for you to take no matter what level of involvement you choose.

We face unprecedented challenges, but we also have an unparalleled opportunity.

I won’t sugarcoat it. For us to succeed, it will require some level of effort from each person reading this. I hope you will volunteer to serve in our Specialty Crop tent at the Illinois State Fair next year, and in addition to offering exceptional service to our customers, that you will also spread the word about the challenges we face as an industry and how we plan to solve them.