Celebrating Agriculture Innovation
It’s no secret that Champaign County is home to and is surrounded by acres and acres of farmland with some of the richest soil in the world. It’s true—we are very proud of our dirt. Agriculture has a rich history in our community and with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) were established in 1867. Since that time, students and faculty have advanced the future of agriculture and shaped the technology that we see today.
During AgTech Week, we’ll see that innovation and what lies ahead during the annual AgTech Innovation Summit, Wednesday, March 10, hosted by the University of Illinois Research Park. Like most events during COVID-19, the event will be virtual, making it easier to tune in to discussions among entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and industry that are shaping the agriculture technology industry. The Summit is a FREE virtual event with scheduled sessions on leadership in AgTech; supply chain; impacts of the pandemic and its silver linings; and insights from growers and producers for anyone who is interested in learning more about this vital industry.
While the bright minds in our community work towards sustainable solutions to help the agriculture industry at large, we have pioneers right here in our backyard that implement technology and sustainable practices that we all can enjoy.
Raise your hand if you’ve enjoyed a beer from Riggs Beer Company, located in Urbana. A part of our community for nearly four years, this family-owned brewery strives for sustainability in their practices and annually publishes a report on their efforts. Brothers Darin and Matt Riggs come from a long line of farmers in East Central Illinois and saw an opportunity to help keep the family-farm alive by utilizing their grain in their beer. Since 2016, they have used 98,877 pounds of Riggs-grown grain in their beers. Shortly after opening, they installed a solar array, helping them offset their use of electricity by 92% in 2020 through solar power. As a participant in the Champaign County Soil and Water Conservation District’s “STAR” program, Riggs received the highest rating possible for their efforts in conserving soil resources. These sustainable practices not only ensure a better future for the environment and our community, they enhance flavor as well. So next time you sip on that Hefewiezen, you can feel good that you’re supporting green practices while also enjoying the refreshing brew.
On the rural edges of Champaign, you may have enjoyed breakfast with the baby goats at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery, enjoying a hot cocoa made with goat’s milk from their herd or some fresh bread smothered in their award-winning goat cheese. This farmstead, owned and operated by Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband, has made tremendous strides in their sustainability practices since opening in 2003, with more adaptations in the future. In 2010, they received the “Animal Welfare Approved” certification, offering up a diverse mix of pasture, prairie and silvopasture to their herd of over 100 goats. With two of their cheeses as winners of the 2021 Good Food Awards that recognize “tasty, authentic, and responsible” producers, Leslie will tell you it’s the environment and feed that continually improves flavor of their products. Visitors are often welcome to their farm to learn about their sustainable practices as they seek transparency and to educate us on the importance of these practices to maintain a healthy environment. While we may all enjoy the adorable baby goats each spring, the efforts of Wes and Leslie and the entire Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery team make us proud to purchase their chevre and other tasty products.
Finally, if you’ve ever heard anyone say, “you can’t throw shade on our corn,” you can be sure they are referencing the Morrow Plots, the second oldest experimental crop field in the world. Why should you visit these plots? For over 100 years, corn, soy, and wheat have all been grown on these half-acre plots and have provided key research into soil quality and other critical factors that advance the success of agriculture. As a National Historic Landmark, these plots are an important part of the history of the University of Illinois, and a symbol of agricultural innovation since 1876. (And also because The Other Guys, a popular a capella group on campus, have an entertaining song about them!)
So yes, we’re proud of our dirt, our corn, and the technology developed right here at the University of Illinois. Check out the annual AgTech Innovation Summit and visit these agricultural leaders and feel some pride yourself. Celebrate all of AgTech Week with events happening every day from March 8–12. Use #AgTech21 next week and you could win this “Super Sweet” tee celebrating our invention of that delicious corn we enjoy each summer. (Yeah, we did that too.)