Amid their own economic challenges, Illinois Quad-City farmers showed their concern for others by sharing the fruits of their labor with River Bend Foodbank.
On Tuesday, farmers representing four western Illinois County Farm Bureaus presented the foodbank with a $23,697.25 donation raised through the Bushels for Hunger. With the latest donation, Bushels for Hunger surpassed the $226,000-mark since the program began nine years ago.
Jeff Kirwan, Illinois Farm Bureau District 3 director, said to date, the program has donated the equivalent of more than 1 million meals.
"It fluctuates with the ag economy overall, but the farmers always make a generous contribution," he said.
Kirwan, a New Windsor farmer, said area grain elevators assist in the program, which allows farmers to donate bushels of corn and soybeans to Bushels for Hunger with the value being converted into dollars for the donation.
Surprisingly, he said this year's donation was up from about $19,000 raised last year. But it falls short of the record $39,600 donated in 2013 when commodity prices were at all-time highs.
"You can see how the ag economy is affected (by prices)," Kirwan said, adding a farmer could be donating the same number of bushels but it is worth less.
Gathered inside River Bend's west Davenport warehouse, the farmers presented the donation to the foodbank's CEO Michael Miller. Kirwan was joined by fellow Mercer County farmers Mike Zecher, who also is Mercer County Farm Bureau president, and Chad Bell, District 3 Young Leader representative.
This year's donation will provide 118,000 meals bringing the total in nine years to 1.130 million meals, Miller said.
"I look at the commodity prices and in particular, the exports and the generosity of the farmers is just astounding," Miller said. "We're very much in touch with what is happening with the ag exports because of the trade mitigation program."
Foodbanks across the country are benefiting from food surpluses offered through The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP. The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched TEFAP as part of a trade mitigation package to help farmers hurt by the trade dispute and new tariffs on farm products. Through it, $500 million has been set aside to purchase surpluses of food such as apples, oranges, pork, milk, beans and rice from farmers.
Bushels for Hunger is coordinated by the farm bureaus in Rock Island, Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties in conjunction with these area grain elevators and ethanol plants: ADM, Atkinson Grain, Big River Resources, Cargill, CHS, Gold Star Farm Service, Hillsdale Elevator, Michlig Grain, River Gulf Grain, River Valley Cooperative and Rumbold & Kuhn.
"We raise food and this is an opportunity for us to show our support for the local community and River Bend Foodbank," Kirwan said.