Illinois Farm Bureau Celebrates a Century

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Illinois Centennial

During the past century, farmers across the nation have faced changes and growth, but the Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) has always stayed true to its mission – advocating for agriculture. Celebrating 100 years in 2016, the organization looks back at its respectful origin and history, and plans for continued future success.

Humble Beginnings

“County organizations first formed in 1912, but our state organization wasn’t created until 1916,” says Richard Guebert Jr., an Ellis Grove farmer who worked his way up the organization’s leadership ranks by serving as president of the Randolph County Farm Bureau in southwest Illinois. “The Illinois Agricultural Association, which is still our organization’s legal name, began as a loose federation of county Farm Bureaus made up of farmers that paid dues to the state. The farmers that lead our county Farm Bureaus and Illinois Farm Bureau remain the heart and soul of this great organization.”

During the next couple of years, the organization grew its influence, securing office space and employees, and coming up with a better way to gather funds by implementing dues.

“There were a lot of pressing issues they needed to deal with, so they created pledge cards in 1919 and 100 farmers agreed to pay $100 to the IAA to help get the organization up and running,” says Philip Gangler, IFB Centennial Celebration co-chairman. “IFB never needed to call on the pledges from farmers because the cards allowed them to secure bank loans for those early expenses. The $100 pledge cards did prove the commitment that early members had to the new farmer-run organization. One hundred dollars a year for three years was a lot of money in that time.”

Early on, IFB hit several milestones that set the foundation for today’s organization. In 1925, it began offering insurance. It implemented auto insurance in 1927, followed in 1929 by life insurance under the name COUNTRY Life Insurance Company. Farm Bureau experienced its first legislative victory in the early 1920s with the passing of the Pure Seed Act, which prohibited dumping impure seed in Illinois. And in 1927, it established the Illinois Farm Supply Company, now the GROWMARK System, which gave farmers the opportunity to buy cooperatively. It started out with petroleum products and soil inputs (limestone and phosphate) and by the 1930s, sold paintbrushes, seed, animal feed, tires, spark plugs and more.

Illinois Centennial

Rolling With the Changes

As Illinois’ – and the nation’s – agriculture sector progressed, so has the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“If you look at 1920, just after IFB was formed, they were feeding four people per farmer,” Gangler says. “Today, it’s around 160 people per farmer. You had horse-drawn plows and were planting one row at a time. Today, we have tractors with 48-row planters that drive themselves.”

The magnitude of today’s technological advances alone has forced Illinois Farm Bureau to adapt, he adds.

Tim Jolly, a corn and soybean farmer in Chenoa, grew up on a family farm that turned 150 years old in 2014. He echoes Gangler in terms of agricultural advancement.

“I used to crib ear corn and shell it,” Jolly says, referring to storing whole ears in a wooden bin or shelf. “Now we have self-propelled combines that are just massive and [cost] several thousand dollars, which would have bought a lot of farmland back in the day.”

Jolly considers the sesquicentennial farm extremely important to his family and their history, much like the influence and support of the Farm Bureau.

“Farm Bureau offers a unified voice in agriculture, which is important,” he says. “The more people that can band on board to be unified, the better voice we have.”

Illinois Centennial

Marking a Milestone

IFB’s centennial celebration kicks off at the annual meeting in December 2015 and runs through the Pre-Opening Gala at the McLean County Museum of History in March 2017. Along with yearly elections and policy resolutions, Gangler says this year’s meeting will feature some special events, including the unveiling of a new book, “A Voice for Illinois Agriculture – The Centennial History of Illinois Farm Bureau.”

“It will be hard cover, just over 200 pages,” he says. “We’re also going to give away small, silver-plated souvenir spoons to each delegate. On top there is an engraving of a farmer and his plow from the early 1900s and a special 100-year logo engraved in the ladle.”

There will also be an expanded area for historical artifacts and more in the exhibit hall, including old films that were digitized and restored. Other events planned throughout the year include a 100th Birthday Party in January and a time capsule event in July at the IAA Building in Bloomington, plus historical commercials on RFD Radio Network, articles in IFB’s weekly newspaper FarmWeek and a centennial quiz online at ilfb.org.

Illinois Centennial

Photo by Illinois Farm Bureau Family of Farmers Archives

Forward Looking

The organization has already started to map out its next century. The 500 Illinois farmers that served as voting delegates at last year’s IFB Annual Meeting approved a resolution for the organization to develop strategies to “meet the evolving needs of members and attract future generations of farmer-leaders.”

“Our Vice President David Erickson, along with a group of county Farm Bureau farmer-leaders, managers and staff have been working over the last year on this project,” says Guebert. “We’ve held input sessions with groups of farmers, landowners and associate members to gather suggestions and develop a plan to keep our organization the voice for food and farming in our state.” The group plans to present the strategy for consideration to the farmer-delegates at its early December annual meeting in Chicago.

A proud past and promising future. There’s no doubt that the next 100 years for IFB will prove to be just as significant.

1 Comment

  1. Bill De Groot

    February 25, 2018 at 10:35 am

    Did the Illinois Farm Bureau award a “Farm Hand of the Year” during the 1930-50s era? My family history has a hand me down story of one of my uncles receiving a Hired Man of the Year, however I cannot find a source to verify. Thank you

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