In the Spotlight: As a member of Congress, looking out for farmers

By Congresswoman Cheri Bustos

As a young girl growing up in central Illinois, few things made me happier than my family's regular trips to my grandparents' hog farm in Milford.

I'd spend hours outside, playing with the baby pigs while taking in the sights, sounds, and yes, the smells. Ever since those days, I've had a deep appreciation for farmers and for the important role agriculture plays in keeping our communities great places to live, work and raise a family.

That's why, as a new member of Congress who represents a region that relies on agriculture for a strong economy, I was excited to be appointed to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture. As anyone can tell as they drive across our district, from Rockford to the Quad Cities to Peoria and everywhere in between, agriculture is our No. 1 industry, including grain and oilseed production, as well as hogs and cattle.

It also is home to the headquarters of large manufacturing employers Caterpillar and Deere & Co. The entire western border of the 17th Congressional District is met by the Mississippi River, on which the barge transportation of agricultural products is key to regional commerce. Additionally, the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, also known as the Ag Lab, is at the forefront of agricultural innovation, including finding new uses for crops that improve environmental quality and food safety. This clearly has the potential to create many new, good-paying jobs.

As a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, I will have the unique opportunity to be a strong advocate when it comes to keeping our ag industry healthy and strong. I'll be a leader when it comes to fighting for value-added agricultural products and the biotech industry, both of which create jobs in Illinois communities large and small.

Finally, because I believe the agricultural industry, like any other industry, needs long-term certainty to plan for future investments and growth, I will push for the passage of a bipartisan, five-year farm bill.

I look forward to traveling throughout the district to meet with farmers and others employed through agriculture in the coming weeks and months to hear firsthand their concerns and priorities. I'll make sure our region always gets a seat at the table in Washington and that our values are taken into consideration. This will ensure that future generations of Illinoisans are able to have the same appreciation for agriculture that I found as a child on my grandparents' farm.

Cheri Bustos represents Illinois' 17th Congressional District. She lives in East Moline.

This article originally appeared in the Peoria Journal Star on January 14, 2013.