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Facts About Illinois Agriculture

1. What agricultural goods are produced in Illinois?

Illinois is a leading producer of soybeans, corn and swine. The state's climate and varied soil types enable farmers to grow and raise many other agricultural commodities, including cattle, wheat, oats, sorghum, hay, sheep, poultry, fruits and vegetables. Illinois also produces several specialty crops, such as buckwheat, horseradish, ostriches, fish and Christmas trees.

2 . What are the characteristics of a typical Illinois farm?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS), as of April 2019, Illinois had 72,000 farms. Illinois farmland covers 27 million acres -- about 75 percent of the state's total land area. The large number of farms, coupled with the diversity of commodities produced, makes it difficult to describe a typical operation. However, statistics provide some indication about what it means to farm in Illinois.


The average size of an Illinois farm, including hobby farms, is 375 acres. Most farm acreage is devoted to grain, mainly corn and soybeans. About 3 percent of Illinois farms have swine. Beef cows are found on about 22 percent of farms, while about 1 percent have dairy cows. Some farms produce specialty crops and livestock, including alfalfa, canola, nursery products, emus and fish. Many farming operations also support recreational activities such as hunting and fishing.

3. How does agriculture benefit Illinois' economy?

Agriculture in the state of Illinois is big business. Marketing of Illinois' agricultural products generates more than $51.1 billion annually. Crops account for 40 percent of that total. Illinois ranks fifth nationally in the export of agricultural products with $10.6 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries.


Billions more dollars flow into the state's economy from ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and production and sale of value-added food products. Rural Illinois benefits principally from agricultural production, while agricultural processing and manufacturing strengthen urban economies.

4. How are Illinois' agricultural commodities used?

With 2,640 food manufacturing companies, Illinois is well-equipped to turn the state's crops and livestock into food and industrial products. In fact, the state ranks first in the nation with $180 billion in processed food sales. Most of these companies are located in the Chicago metropolitan area, which contains one of the largest concentrations of food-related businesses in the world.


Illinois' agricultural commodities also provide the base for such products as animal feed, ink, paint, adhesives, clothing, soap, wax, cosmetics, medicines, furniture, paper and lumber. Each year, 274 million bushels of Illinois corn are used to produce more ethanol than any other state -- about 678 million gallons. Illinois also markets other renewable fuels, including soybean-based biodiesel.

5. How does agriculture benefit from the state's geography and climate?

Illinois measures about 400 miles from its northern border to its southernmost tip. Temperatures generally vary by 10 to 12 degrees from one end of the state to the other. Cold, fairly dry winters and warm, humid summers with ample rainfall allow the land to support many kinds of crops and livestock.


Much of Illinois is comprised of fertile flat loess, left behind by glaciers and wind millions of years ago. About 89 percent of the state's cropland is considered prime farmland, ranking the state third nationally in total prime farmland acreage. Prime farmland is important because it provides an environmentally sound base for crop production. The central three-fourths of the state are especially well suited for growing crops, while hilly areas in the northwest and south provide excellent pasture for livestock.

6. Who farms?

Although Illinois' food and fiber industry employs nearly 1 million people, there are only 75,087 farm operators, down from 164,000 in 1959. During the same time period, the average farm size more than doubled as sophisticated technology made many aspects of the industry less labor-intensive. Illinois farmers are generally more than 50 years old. Forty-nine percent hold jobs off the farm and consider farming their secondary occupation. Family farms still dominate, though some of these have incorporated.

7. What are other reasons for Illinois' agricultural success?

Illinois has a competitive edge over many other states due to its central location and superior transportation system. More than 2,000 miles of interstate highway and 34,500 miles of other state highway make trucking of goods fast and efficient. Chicago is home to the largest rail gateway in the nation, connecting eastern and western United States. The state boasts some 1,100 airports, landing areas and heliports, including Chicago's O'Hare International, through which more than 65 million travelers pass annually. Illinois' 1,118 miles of navigable waterways, including the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, make barge traffic an excellent option for shipment of grain to the Gulf of Mexico.

8. Are many of Illinois' agricultural products exported to other nations?

Illinois ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries. Exports from Illinois account for 6 percent of all U.S. agricultural exports. Illinois is the nation's second leading exporter of both soybeans and feed grains and related products. Approximately 44 percent of grain produced in Illinois is sold for export. The Illinois Department of Agriculture promotes items produced, processed, packaged or are headquartered in Illinois through international and domestic marketing exhibits, trade missions, industry tours, publications, the Illinois Product Logo program and an electronic database for trade leads.