McLean County FB makes $2 million ag education investment


Heartland Community College agriculture students may be the initial beneficiaries, but the college’s president predicts a new agriculture facility will provide wide-ranging opportunities for central Illinois agriculture.

The planned agriculture center will be a “space for education at all levels ... a center for agricultural organizations and space for youth K through 12 to come,” President Keith Cornille told gathered McLean County business, agriculture and education representatives attending the McLean County Chamber of Commerce ag breakfast.

McLean County Farm Bureau President Mark Hines presented Cornille and Heartland Community College Foundation Chairman George Wood with a $2 million pledge to help develop flexible laboratory learning space in the planned ag facility.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hines said of the county Farm Bureau’s investment. “Hopefully, we will keep McLean County youth in central Illinois, especially keep them from leaving the state, because when they leave (for college) they tend not to return.”

The county Farm Bureau pledged to donate $2 million over two years. Heartland is planning to construct a nearly 30,000-square-foot building with classrooms, a laboratory, a greenhouse and hoop house. The $20 million facility will be built on the west side of the Normal campus. Construction is expected to start later this year and be complete sometime in 2023. Cornille told chamber attendees they would have a building in 18 months.

Currently, Heartland has 87 college students enrolled in agriculture courses. When the agriculture program expansion is completed with the new complex, the program and facility will accommodate 200 students per year.

In addition to college students, another 153 high school students are enrolled in dual-credit agriculture courses that allow them to earn college credits while still attending high school. Now most of the dual-credit courses are conducted at the students’ participating high schools. But the new building’s flexible lab space, which the county Farm Bureau is supporting, is part of the college’s long-term plans for dual-credit ag students.

Heartland serves parts of five central Illinois counties. In addition to its main campus in Normal, Heartland has satellite campuses in Lincoln and Pontiac. Currently, the college offers three associate degrees in agriculture and four ag-related certificates.

“We could not be more grateful for the partnership Heartland Community College has with McLean County Farm Bureau,” Cornille said. “This investment in community ag education is yet another example of the commitment the McLean County Farm Bureau has toward securing the future of homegrown talent.

“The Ag Education Lab space this gift will fund is an important piece of a facility that will create a much-needed community center to train and educate individuals at all levels,” Cornille continued. “This will be a place of learning for students in short-term stackable programs as well as those in associate transfer programs. We will also utilize the space for community students in grades K-12 to learn how agriculture is vital to our lives, and open a door to the industry for the ag leaders of the future.”

Hines agreed the county Farm Bureau’s long-time priorities are “legislation and education – education of our neighbors and youth.”

This story was provided by