Barry McNamara  |   Published September 07, 2021

A Bright Future for Rural America

In fifth-annual Wiswell-Robeson Lecture, Rep. Cheri Bustos tells audience that she is optimistic about rural America.

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos delivers the fifth-annual Wiswell-Robeson Lecture in Dahl Chapel and Audit... U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos delivers the fifth-annual Wiswell-Robeson Lecture in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.MONMOUTH, Ill. – The future of rural America is bright.

That was the sentiment U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos shared as she delivered Monmouth College’s fifth-annual Wiswell-Robeson Lecture Tuesday night in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

Bustos, a Democrat from Moline who serves the 17th Congressional District in Illinois – which includes Monmouth – brought some “street cred” to the lecture, which annually features a speaker from the agriculture community who explores issues, challenges and innovations in the industry.

The granddaughter of a farmer and a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Bustos touched on agricultural issues in her one-hour talk, but she also covered other topics related to rural areas in the region, including the need for increased internet bandwidth and access, having better, safer roads and addressing a rural teacher shortage.

Regarding the teacher shortage in the region, Bustos praised Monmouth College for its TARTANS program, an acronym for Teachers Allied with Rural Towns and Neighborhood Schools. Bustos said that Initiatives such as TARTANS will be instrumental in creating more opportunities in rural America.

The congresswoman said she also was oprtimistic for the region after seeing many exciting developments at the Farm Progress Show. Held last week in Decatur, Illinois, the event is billed as the nation’s largest outdoor farm event.

Innovation in the ag industry

“There is so much through innovation that we’ll be able to do,” she said of her takeaway from the three-day event.

Among the ideas Bustos said she encountered at the show was carbon sequestration, the long-term removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can mitigate or reverse climate change, which Bustos called “one of the most pressing issues that we’re facing.”

“If you don’t believe in climate change, look what we’re living through,” said Bustos. “I think the science is very clear that we are going through changes in our climate.”

Bustos also cited advances in farm machinery from the show that left her “amazed,” and discussed the use of biologicals.

“It’s a liquid that you put down with the corn plant and it wraps around the roots of the plant,” she said. “You don’t have to use anhydrous ammonia, so there’s no runoff.”

Next Generations Farm Act


REP. CHERI BUSTOS: ?You cannot get crazy right. You cannot be crazy left. You've got to keep movi... REP. CHERI BUSTOS: “You cannot get crazy right. You cannot be crazy left. You've got to keep moving into (the center) to make any progress.”Bustos has authored the Next Generations Farm Act, which she said came out of an ag roundtable hosted by WMOI-FM/WRAM-AM co-owner Vanessa Wetterling, a 1996 graduate of the College. The act has three main objectives: to increase ethanol in the fuel supply; to create more and better paying jobs; and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“It’s a win for our rural economy,” said Bustos. “The bill was introduced just a couple weeks ago. It’s been assigned to the Energy and Commerce Committee. Our next goal is to be able to get that through a committee and then get it attached to another bill or as a standalone bill.”

Legislation that has Bustos’ full attention is a $1 billion infrastructure bill that will be voted on Sept. 27.

“It will be the biggest investment in infrastructure since the Eisenhower administration,” she said, referring to the federal act that created the interstate highway system in 1956.

Bustos lives in the Quad Cities on River Drive by the Mississippi River, and on her walks, she counts the cranes being used to construct the new Interstate Highway 74 bridge.

“I’ve seen that bridge go up over the last several years,” she said. “Those cranes mean jobs and better transportation … which is critically important for getting our commodities to market.”

“We have so much potential going forward, and in the 16 months left that I have in this job I can tell you that my foot is on the gas pedal … mixed with ethanol.”
— Rep. Cheri Bustos

Earlier this summer, the House passed a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that calls for a vast expansion of social safety net and climate programs, among other Democrat-led initiatives. For the spending plan to become a reality, Bustos said that all sides must be willing to compromise a little – especially with the Senate divided at 50-50 and Democrats enjoying only a 220-212 majority in the House. (The House has three vacant seats.)

“You cannot get crazy right. You cannot be crazy left,” she said. “You’ve got to keep moving into (the center) to make any progress. And I think that’s good news. It reflects more of the people from our part of the country. Most of the people I meet are just hard-working people. They want to do right by their families.”

Currently serving her fifth term in Congress, Bustos announced in April that she won’t run for re-election in 2022. But that doesn’t mean she’s resting on her laurels with her personal finish line in sight.

“We have so much potential going forward, and in the 16 months left that I have in this job I can tell you that my foot is on the gas pedal … mixed with ethanol,” she said.

The Wiswell-Robeson Lecture was founded in 2016 through a gift from 1960 Monmouth graduate Jeanne Gittings Robeson of Monmouth. The lecture’s purpose is to annually feature a speaker from the agriculture community who explores issues, challenges and innovations in the industry. Robeson and her late husband, Don Robeson, who was a 1954 Monmouth graduate, operated their farm in Warren County.

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