Editorial: respect our farming roots

Our university’s connection to corn gets a lot of laughs. We joke about living “in the middle of a corn field” and the significance of the Morrow Plots is often lost on the suburban and city kids that populate the University.

It’s time we give that corn a little more respect.

In the shadow of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s visit, it’s time to appreciate what farming means to our state and perhaps give the institution more praise in relation to its farming roots — pun intended.

The University, not to mention our state, would be nothing without that corn.

Our history as a university lies in agriculture. We were founded thanks to the Morrill Act as a land-grant school with a focus on teaching farmers.

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According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, about 75 percent of land in Illinois is dedicated to agriculture. This includes about 74,300 farms growing mainly corn and soybeans.

If these numbers don’t impress you, then consider the state’s economy. Agriculture is a $19 billion a year industry in the state. Of that, 54 percent comes from corn.

Billions of additional dollars flow in from industries that support these farms like machinery and real-estate.

As a state we export around $8.2 billion worth of agricultural goods to other countries.

So, yeah, corn is pretty important.

Chicago is our state’s biggest distraction from corn. It is a hub of international business, entertainment, politics and social change. Chicago keeps the state afloat, but not more so than agricultural areas.

Students coming from the suburbs and city are used to the city life and have the notion that Chicago is the core of Illinois.

They come down to our rural university and have a mini culture shock. There isn’t noise pollution coming from the Midway or O’Hare airports. There isn’t a strip mall every 15 minutes. The high schools are small and the library is underground to avoid bothering the corn that’s in the middle of campus.

When you’re coming from one of the country’s largest cities just a few hours away, where you are used to a fast paced life and constant movement, all of the agricultural focus can seem a little strange.

Suburban and city kids grow up thinking of Illinois as being Chicago and then just a bunch of corn.

Well, that’s what it is, but those rows and rows of corn that line Route 57 on the way to Champaign are the reason why the University at the end of that car trip even exists.

So the next time the urge to make a corn joke strikes, remember that our university and state would be nothing without it.