Farm Aid celebrates 20-year journey, heads back to Illinois roots

Farm Aid celebrates 20-year journey, heads back to Illinois roots

CHICAGO – The 20th anniversary of Farm Aid, the rock concert designed to shed light (and some money) on the plight of American farmers, took place this past weekend in Chicago.
As indicated by the Chicago Tribune in an article this weekend on this unique phenomenon, the American farm is not only a center of production. It’s also a source of pride and income for an extended family. The Tribune noted that we all lose something each time a family farm is bought out by a corporation.
Nowhere is this effect felt more than in the Midwest, which is the breadbasket of the U.S. Farm Aid was established in 1985 by a group of notable musicians (particularly a key trio) to raise funds, awareness and political support for family farms. The trio is Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp and Neil Young.
Over the years, the musical retinue has grown to include Bob Dylan, B.B. King, Elton John, the Grateful Dead, Billy Joel, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul Simon, the Allman Brothers, Roy Orbison, Loretta Lyn, Tom Petty, Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, Don Henley, Ringo Starr, the Beach Boys and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Also included is Steppenwolf; Crosby, Stills & Nash; Beck; Barenaked Ladies; Dwight Yoakam; Martina McBride; John Fogarty; Kris Kristofferson; and the Dave Matthews Band. The first concert took place at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Farm Aid has morphed into a year-round organization that’s based in Massachusetts.
This year’s version, which was titled “Keep America Growing,” included almost two dozen acts.
They included Willie Nelson, Wilco, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Arlo Guthrie, Buddy Guy, Emmy Lou Harris, John Mayer, Los Lonely Boys, Susan Tedeschi, Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra, Congressman Colin Peterson and the Second Amendments, Kate Voegele, Kathleen Edwards, Widespread Panic and James McMurtry.
As indicated by the table below, Farm Aid venues have moved around the U.S. over the last 20 years.

Over its 20-year history, Farm Aid has donated $17 million in grant supports to family farms ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. As Illinois has been the focus of four of the Farm Aid concerts, here some key facts about Illinois farming courtesy of the Chicago Tribune:
• 80 percent of Illinois is farmland.
• There are 76,000 farms in Illinois.
• Illinois is a leader in soybeans, corn and hogs. Illinois also produces buckwheat, horseradish, fish, Christmas trees and ostriches.
• There are more than 950 food manufacturing companies in Illinois.
• Illinois supports 138 farmer markets and 152 organic farms.
Let’s contrast this with the overall U.S. farm situation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are:
• 938.2 million acres of farmland in the U.S. (according to the 2002 census). This is 7.3 million acres less than in 1992.
• Of the above amount, 432.2 million acres is dedicated to crops.
• The average U.S. farm size is 441 acres (down from 491 some 10 years ago). However, 51 percent of the farms are from 1 to 99 acres in size and 33 percent are from 100 to 499 acres.
• 59 percent of the farms have annual sales of less than $10,000. Another 19 percent have annual sales ranging from $10,000 to $50,000.
• There are 2.1 million farms in the U.S.
• The top five farm products in 2003 brought in the following revenue: cattle calves brought in $45.1 billion, dairy products brought in $21.2 billion, corn brought in $18.3 billion, soybeans brought in $15.9 billion and broilers brought in $15.2 billion.
Next week, we will explore the role of biotech in agriculture and the impact it is having not only in the U.S. but around the globe. See you next week!

Michael S. Rosen is president of Rosen Bioscience Management, a company that provides CEO services including financing, business and corporate development to start-up and early stage life science companies such as Renovar and Immune Cell Therapy. Rosen is also a founder and board member of the Illinois Biotechnology Industry Organization. He can be reached at rosenmichaels@aol.com.
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