Opening new agricultural markets; time for FAFSA applications

Taiwan trade mission comes to Ford County, will purchase $2.2 billion in ag products

Finding markets for Illinois agricultural products, both domestically and overseas, is essential to the continued success of the state’s largest industry. So it was a great thrill to join with Senator Scott Bennett to host a trade delegation from Taiwan in Ford County. At the end of the tour, Taiwan signed an agreement to buy $2.2 billion in corn and soybeans over the next two years. This was the end result of a bipartisan effort which included local farmers, legislators, Governor Pritzker, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board and the Illinois Soybean Association. It is tremendous news for Illinois farmers.

Under the agreement announced last week, the Taiwan Feed Industry Association will buy 197 million bushels of corn and the Taiwan Vegetable Oil Manufacturers Association will purchase at least 96 million bushels of soybeans in 2020 and 2021. Taiwan has a population of about 25 million people, roughly double the size of Illinois. The visit to Illinois came after a delegation of Illinois lawmakers led by state Treasurer Mike Frerichs went to Taiwan during the summer to promote Illinois agriculture.

During their time in Ford County, the 15-member Taiwanese delegation visited the Bennett family farm near Gibson City in order to see an American farm first-hand. They also had lunch at the Humble Hog restaurant in Paxton and experienced the city’s Swine N’ Dine BBQ festival so they could get a taste of some of our area’s ag products.

Illinois is the nation’s number one producer of soybeans and ranks second in corn production. We export 360 million bushels of whole soybeans and 877 million bushels of corn each year. Where agricultural products are concerned, Taiwan is the state’s third largest trading partner.

College financial aid application period now open

This week marked the opening of the application period for students seeking federal financial aid for college. Those interested in applying should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by visiting www.studentaid.ed.gov. Students can also find information from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission at www.isac.org about state help which might be available to them.

Families who are in the process of choosing a college and a career should also visit www.ilcollege2career.com, a new tool to help prospective students match their educational and career goals with a college here in Illinois. A few weeks ago I told you about the largest freshman class at Illinois State in over 30 years. A lot of exciting things are happening at Illinois colleges and universities.

How much do we owe?

As of the time of this writing, the State of Illinois owes $5,944,361,598 in unpaid bills to state vendors. One year ago, the backlog stood at $7.3 billion. This figure represents the amount of bills submitted to the office of the Comptroller and still awaiting payment. It does not include debts that can only be estimated, such as our unfunded pension liability which is subject to a wide range of factors and has been estimated to be approximately $133 billion.

Medicare open enrollment coming up

The open enrollment period for Medicare beneficiaries will run from October 15 through December 7 this year. This is a good opportunity for seniors to review their coverage to ensure that it will be adequate for their needs next year.

Help is available in navigating the different options. Counselors from the Illinois Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) offer their services free of charge for Medicare beneficiaries and caregivers. These counselors can help with issues ranging from enrollment in a plan, comparing costs and benefits, helping with billing disputes, choosing a drug or Medicare Advantage policy and more. You can find the SHIP counselor in your area by visiting the Illinois Department on Aging website or contacting your local area agency on aging. In Ford, Iroquois, Livingston and Vermilion Counties contact the East-Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging at 1-800-888-4456. In Woodford County, reach out to the Central Illinois Agency on Aging at 1-877-777-2422.

More helpful information is available from Medicare at www.medicare.gov.

New addition to Peterson Elementary

It was great to join Paxton-Buckley-Loda superintendent Cliff McClure, members of the PBL school board, faculty, staff and local residents in the grand opening of the new addition to Clara Peterson Elementary School. This new building is a state-of-the-art facility which will be a great learning environment for the students. They had a wonderful program last Saturday followed by tours of the new portion of the building.

Did You Know?

October 4, 1923, is the birthday of John Charles Carter, better known as the legendary Illinois-born actor Charlton Heston. Born in Wilmette, Heston got his start in acting in his local high school and in community theater. He became a TV star and then a Hollywood icon for nearly five decades. He also served as President of the National Rifle Association for five years. Charlton Heston died in 2008.