Jim Eichhorst: “Farmers Need a Support System”
Hometown boy and University of Illinois graduate, James “Jim” Eichhorst, came back to Champaign County five years ago to take over the family farm. Jim currently farms 765 acres around Leverett, IL. Jim spent his early career years in Bloomington, IL at COUNTRY, IAA, and Illinois Corn Growers creating and cultivating relationships with key political players. Jim was soon tapped to work with U.S. Representative Tom Ewing in Washington, DC, then U.S. Representative Tim Johnson and eventually became a Bush appointee at the USDA.
After working for 10 years in the political hub of Washington, DC, Jim brings back a unique knowledge to the central Illinois farm scene. Jim’s time in the political arena has given him a unique perspective and helped him “to appreciate the complexity, moving parts and the consensus needed to make things work in Washington.” The 1996 Farm Bill was a memorable and challenging piece of legislation that Jim had a keen interest in. Jim was able to be in on ground level meetings initiating major change in policy as the 1996 Farm Bill marked a new direction for farmers.
Jim is actively farming and staying politically active working for a Washington, DC, based trade association that represents biotech firms. Jim currently covers thirteen Midwestern states monitoring activity affecting biotechnology in state capitals and administrations. Because of Jim’s experience with politics and his knowledge of legislative issues the Champaign County Farm Bureau was excited to get his take on current issues that Farm Bureau members need to tackle in the upcoming days and months.
1. Of utmost importance to Jim is that there seems to be a “sense of urgency to pass the Farm Bill.” Locally elected politicians are going to work hard to ensure the passage of this legislation this year due to tight budgets that will be even tighter next year.
2. Another issue CCFB members need to stay on top of is safeguarding the inclusion of crop insurance in the Farm Bill. Jim is adamant that “farmers need some sort of support system.” The government needs to continue to subsidize crop insurance and legislators need to be aware of how and why this is so critical.
3. Biotechnology is a hot button issue for several communities and affects farmers as they strive to grow a wholesome food supply for our nation. Some activist groups are calling for labeling of all foods containing any type of genetically modified organisms. The FDA currently does not require labeling of these items if they do not change the nutritional quality or safety of the food. Jim says “If the labeling of GMO foods passes into legislation it will put into question the safety of our foods we grow on fields.”
4. Another area of concern for CCFB members is tax reform. Budgets are tightening and more tax bills equals less money for farmers to spend. Small business tax incentives and other programs farmers use may also be in jeopardy.
5. East Central Illinois farmers are going to be challenged to make their voices heard this year and next year. CCFB leaders will need to get to know two new congressmen covering the area. Congressman John Shimkus, has one of the largest districts east of the Mississippi and lives around the St. Louis area. Another new congressman will be determined in the November election, either David Gill or Rodney Davis. CCFB members need to work on developing strong relationships with their elected officials and making sure the officials know the people living in the legislative district. According to Jim “the Farm Bureau wants to be known to the new members on the Hill and their staffs as people they count on for information and answers.” Jim says “the bottom line is it doesn’t matter who gets elected to the House and Senate the reality will be the same. Margins will be tight and it will be very difficult to pass any legislation in the next two years.
The issues facing CCFB members need to be tackled NOW! It is time to be informed, stay informed, and contact your legislator. CCFB members are encouraged to make their voices heard and become part of the FB ACT team today! More information on FB ACT can be found at www.ifb.org.