SPRINGFIELD — After 16 years in the Illinois General Assembly, former state Sen. John Sullivan is settling into his new role in state government, that of acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Sullivan was tapped by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to head the state’s agriculture agency, succeeding the former director, Raymond Poe. Sullivan also served on the transition team with a group of other officials focusing on agriculture and rural development.
Speaking to reporters during a news conference at the agency’s headquarters on Monday, Sullivan said that experience on the transition team taught him about the diversity of agricultural interests in the state.
“When I talk about the diversity, we had folks representing urban ag, we had folks obviously from all the different commodity groups, we had rural development folks, we had economic development folks,” Sullivan said. “And everybody, when we made our introductions, we laid out what our goals were for the group, everybody put their own issues aside and tried to move forward with a plan that we can present to the governor that would improve agriculture, and we expanded it to not only include agriculture but rural development.”
Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat who represented the 47th Senate District from 2003 to 2017, is no stranger to the agriculture community in Illinois. He and his family have operated a family farm in west-central Illinois, and he has been involved in a family-owned auction and real estate business.
Now as he prepares to lead a state agency charged with regulating and promoting the state’s entire agriculture industry, Sullivan said three major issues have already risen to the surface.
“I’d say number one, broadband out in the rural areas of the state was just an issue that came up over and over and over again,” Sullivan said. “I can speak to that from our own home and family location as well as our own business. Trying to get high-speed internet is very frustrating out in the rural areas of the state, and it is absolutely a hindrance to trying to do business.”
“Other areas, hemp was certainly on everybody’s radar,” Sullivan continued, referring to the state’s recent action to legalize the production of industrial hemp. “I certainly feel like there’s going to be a lot of opportunities there.”
“I’d say the third area would be ag education,” he continued. “We had a lot of folks from the education field that were on our panel. Certainly offering programs in-person or online, and that gets back to the high-speed internet.”
Sullivan also acknowledged that the Department of Agriculture faces a number of challenges, most notably its lack of staffing. Due to recent budget and staffing cuts, he said the agency is down to about 300 to 325 employees, which is down from its previous head count of about 600.
Sullivan will continue to lead the agriculture agency in an acting capacity pending his confirmation by the Illinois Senate.
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January 28, 2019 at 06:50PM