Two former directors of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Chuck Hartke and Tom Jennings, were awarded the 2011 Friend of Agriculture Award at the 2011 Illinois Commodity Conference that was held in Bloomington Tuesday, November 22.

“Both Chuck Hartke and Tom Jennings have dedicated many years to serving Illinois farmers and improving Illinois agriculture,” said Mike Haag, a pork producer from Emington, Ill., and current Illinois Pork Producers Association president. “They both have been outstanding ambassadors for agriculture and have been supportive of the pork industry in Illinois. Chuck and Tom are very deserving of this honor.”

The Friend of Agriculture Award is presented by the Illinois Beef Association, Illinois Corn Growers Association, Illinois Milk Producers Association, Illinois Pork Producers Association, Illinois Soybean Association and Illinois Wheat Association.

“We salute former Director Jennings for being such a strong supporter and friend to Illinois beef producers,” stated Jeff Beasley, Illinois Beef Association president. “Tom had a great way of solving issues in a common sense manner. He used his years of experience as both an ag professional and producer to help better the lives of many cattlemen and women statewide. We wish him the best in his retirement and congratulate him on this distinguished award!”

The award is given each year to individuals who have significantly contributed to improving agriculture in Illinois. Nominees are submitted by each of the sponsoring commodity groups and selected by representatives of the groups.

Hartke was named interim director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture in April 2003 and was confirmed by the Illinois Senate in May 2003. He stepped into the position of Illinois’ top agriculture official with more than 30 years in local and state politics and a lifetime of experience in the agriculture industry. As director, Hartke supported the expansion of livestock in Illinois; worked to expand the biofuels industry including ethanol, biodiesel and biomass; strengthened relations with foreign trading partners; supported specialty crop and diversified agriculture operations; and worked to protect the state’s food supply and expand use of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. Hartke retired in February 2008.

Jennings worked for the Department of Agriculture in various capacities for over 30 years. He began working at the Department as a grain warehouse examiner in June 1978 after graduating from the University of Illinois with a degree in agricultural economics. During his career, he also served as the Department’s assistant director, chief of staff, manager of the Division of Agriculture Industry Regulation and bureau chief of warehouses. In addition, he managed the Illinois Grain Insurance Fund. Jennings was appointed acting director when Hartke resigned from the director’s position, and he was named director in October 2008. Jennings retired October 18, 2011.