In January 2020, Illinois opened the doors to legal, adult-use cannabis sales. The fledgling industry is a natural fit for agriculturally minded Illinois.
There are more than 122,468 agribusiness companies in Illinois — more than any other Midwestern state. Illinois also tops the region for agribusiness employment, with some of the top sectors being food processing, agtech and more traditional agriculture. Leading agtech companies in Illinois include ADM, Conagra, John Deere, McDonalds and Mondolez.
Illinois is the first state in the nation to legalize cannabis through the legislative process fully. With bipartisan support, the state has made significant efforts to ensure the rollout was equitable — particularly in communities impacted by prohibition. In addition, the legislation cleared cannabis-related records of nonviolent offenders and is maintaining this focus as it continues to develop a regulatory framework.
Senior Advisor to the Governor for Cannabis, Toi Hutchinson, said the first year and a half has been a “roller coaster” as the state grappled with creating new economic opportunities while navigating the pandemic.
“We’ve taken in over $300 million in revenue, at a time when all budgets were constricted and everything else stopped. In February, we started to overtake tax revenues from alcohol. So, to put it in context — we have over 40,000 liquor licenses compared to 110 cannabis licenses and we bring in more tax revenue from cannabis than we do alcohol,” Hutchinson explained.
Additionally, the state has issued licenses to several community colleges across the state, including Kishwaukee College, Oakton College, Olive-Harvey College, Shawnee Community College, Southwestern Illinois College, Triton College and Wilbur Wright College. The colleges will develop a curriculum to train a new generation of cannabis industry professionals and leaders. This innovative program offers students a path to achieving a Career in Cannabis Certificate, which includes working with, studying, and growing live cannabis plants to prepare for a career in the legal cannabis industry and instruction in the legal compliance of the cannabis business industry, among other topics. The program is a vital part of the growing cannabis industry in Illinois. It will provide a path to the thousands of new jobs being created right here in Illinois for community college graduates in communities around the state.
Feed for the Future
The world’s largest insect protein production facility is currently under construction in Decatur. In November 2020, ADM and French-biotech company Innovafeed announced plans to co-locate within ADM’s Decatur corn processing complex, with ADM supplying feedstocks, waste heat and more. Insect feed has become an increasingly popular protein ingredient for agriculture and aquaculture industries, as demand for animal feed has reached an all-time high and consumers look for sustainably and responsibly grown food. InnovaFeed already operates two insect production facilities in France, including what is today the world’s largest. The Decatur facility represents InnovaFeed’s first international project.
When both phases of construction are complete, the plant would have a target annual production capacity of 60,000 metric tons of animal feed protein derived from Hermetia Illucens, a type of fly with exceptional nutritional qualities; the plant will also have the capability to produce 20,000 metric tons every year of oils for poultry and swine rations, and 400,000 metric tons of fertilizer.
The plant will be built using an innovative model of industrial collaboration that InnovaFeed has already demonstrated in other facilities enabling the French Biotech company to produce the insect protein with the lowest carbon footprint on the market. The plant will be co-located with ADM’s Decatur corn complex, with complementary infrastructure that will allow ADM to directly provide corn by-products to supply InnovaFeed’s innovative insect rearing process, as well as waste heat and steam. This collaborative operating model will enable the Innovafeed facility to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% versus standalone production.
“At a time when the demand for animal feed protein is steadily increasing, insect farming stands out as a true solution for the future,” said Chris Cuddy, ADM senior vice president and president of the company’s Carbohydrate Solutions business. “We’re excited to work with InnovaFeed on this ambitious project, which further expands our participation in the growing market for animal food and feed that comes from responsible, sustainable sources. It is a great demonstration of how ADM is expanding its value chain by offering opportunities for collaboration to leading, innovative startups. It is yet another example of how we are constantly identifying new ways to create value from corn, oilseeds and more. And of course, we are extremely proud that we can help bring this new, job-creating project to Decatur, the home of our North American headquarters.”
Agtech Accelerates at U of I
A key hub for agtech and engineering, the Research Park at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign offers a unique, innovative community for entrepreneurship and research. In early 2020, the Wisconsin-based startup accelerator program gener8tor launched two new programs focused on innovation and agriculture at the research park.
gBETA AgTech is a free, seven-week accelerator for early-stage companies from around the country. Each of five participating startups receives a $25,000 investment via uncapped convertible note or on their existing financing terms. The gBETA AgTech Spring 2021 cohort includes startups ranging from food ingredients to livestock management.
An annual gener8tor AgTech accelerator will bring agtech startups from around the globe to Champaign for a 12-week accelerator program. The program will choose five startups to receive $100,000 investment and office space from gener8tor and the company’s network of mentors, investors, and partners.
Savannah King is managing editor of custom content for Conway Inc. She is an award-winning journalist and previously wrote for The Times in Gainesville, Ga. She graduated from the University of West Florida with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and lives near Atlanta.