NORMAL — Raymond Poe doesn’t want to be known as the guy who sits in an office all day as the director of the Illinois State Department of Agriculture.
On the job for a little more than a year now, Poe said Wednesday he still likes to connect with Illinois farmers and understand what they are going through.
“I was even planting beans earlier this spring,” said Poe, who still farms with his son in Sangamon County. “But I enjoy riding the combine so much more.”
Poe was the featured speaker Wednesday night at the Normal Rotary Club’s annual Rural-Urban Night, which was at the farm of Ray Ropp in rural Normal.
“I don’t get out to events like this very much,” Poe said, “but I accepted this invitation for a couple of reasons, including the fact that it’s a ‘rural-urban’ night. We should take every opportunity we can to brag about agriculture in Illinois, especially to our residents who might live in the communities and don’t hear that message much.”
Also, he said, he knew he would get the chance to visit with Gordon Ropp, Ray’s brother and a Normal Republican who served as director of the state Department of Agriculture from 1970 to 1973 and as a state lawmaker for 14 years.
“This guy did a lot for the state and I enjoy visiting with him,” Poe said.
In his message to the Rotarians and invited guests, Poe said he was proud to serve the farming community.
“We are the largest industry in Illinois, and everything revolves around agriculture,” he said. “If it wasn’t for us, and like Gordie has always said, we touch everything in Illinois from groceries to gas to the animals. A lot of great people work very hard in this industry.”
Poe, who served in the state House from 1995 to 2015, noted that he is glad to have the job he has now instead of wrangling with the state budget crisis.
“There isn’t nearly as much pressure now because when you have to go home and face your constituents with no budget, it’s tough,” he said.
“I haven’t been optimistic for the past two years on the budget, but we are going on our third year of that now, and I think it is getting really critical," he added. "If we ever had a chance, I think now is the time that it’s going to get done.”
For the Central Illinois farmer though, a budget may not help with crop concerns for this year.
“I’ve been looking at the crops all over the state and really, they are not in very good shape,” he said. “The weather has really played a huge part, especially for those fields near major rivers or streams, especially when you get south of Springfield.”
Ray Ropp, who hosts the annual event, said the club invites an ag expert every year, and members were thrilled when Poe accepted the invitation.
“We hope this experience is a learning experience for city Rotarians,” he said. “We try to educate them more about what the world of agriculture is about.
"We also want to learn a little more about what kind of impact the state’s financial problems are going to have on the agriculture industry in Illinois.”