by Bill Monson

Food (and other ag products) for thought

The folks out at the Knox County Farm Bureau on Soangetaha Road never tire of turning up facts to remind how important agriculture is to all of us. For example, Illinois farmers paid around $22 per acre in property taxes in 1998, and there are 389,776 farm acres in Knox County.

Ka-ching $$$$

When we think of agriculture around here, though, we usually think of corn and soybeans. Not only do we eat corn and feed it to other animals, but we get all kinds of byproducts from it. Things like ethanol fuels, charcoal lighter, road de-icers and windshield washer fluid. Corn is also used in paper products, diapers, and those little packing peanuts we ship our breakables in. When you watch ''E.R.'' on television, remember the powder in those surgical gloves comes from corn.

Soybeans are almost as versatile. Not only do we have soy in many of our foods, but cosmetics, degreasing solvent, and all-purpose cleaners are byproducts. So are printing inks and concrete release agents.

But I don't think of byproducts when I think of agriculture. I think of food. Belly-bulgers. Gut gorgers. So the Farm Bureau folks have come up with some facts which really interest me. In a life time, they say, the average American will consume:--

1,290 chickens--

21 240-pound hogs--

seven thousand-pound steers--

45 acres of corn--

five football fields of wheat--

100 bathtubs of milk--

enough vegetables to fill 24 pickup trucks

Numbers like that really make you think.

Mostly about diets and cholesterol.

My wife, for example, wants me to eat a lot of fish.

Now if I eat a one-pound catfish at the Galesburg American Legion two Friday nights a month for - say -- 35 years, how many swimming pools would that fill?

Hey, don't knock catfish. Illinois has 15 farms raising 912,000 pounds of ictalurus a year.

However, there are 370 farms raising ducks (10,588 yearly), 80 raising pheasants (107,828) and 60 raising quail (65,464). They're good eating, too. And if you've got the munchies, there are 333 farms with 46,970 acres of popcorn.

When it comes to rank in products, Knox County makes the top ten in Hogs (#2 at 194,100) and Beef Cows (#6 with 12,200) according to 1998 statistics. However, crop sales still account for 70% of annual Knox County market value. Warren County is #2 in Sheep (3,400) and #6 in Oats (209,300 bushels). Fulton County is #4 in Beef Cows (13,700) and #5 in Hay (75,920 tons). McLean County is #1 in both Corn (47,190,000 bushels) and Soybeans (14,877,000 bushels).

With about 88 percent of Illinois in agriculture (26.8 million acres), these facts mean more than just food and finance. They're the lifeblood of our society.

Now excuse me. All this has given me an appetite. Maybe I'll have some sunflower seeds (53 farms, 1,813 acres) or pecans (36 farms, 176 acres).

Bill Monson is an author and critic whose observations on his native Galesburg and the world appear occasionally in these pages.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 24, 2000

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