SPRINGFIELD – The resignation of Seneca farmer Philip Nelson as Illinois Department of Agriculture director on Thursday came as a shock to local agriculture advocates.
“It’s very disappointing for the agriculture community,” Tasha Bunting, manager Grundy County Farm Bureau, said on Friday. “Phil Nelson was a great advocate for agriculture. He was on a forward moving track for agriculture in Illinois.”
Nelson is well regarded by farmers in Grundy and Will counties. He is a former president of the Illinois Farm Bureau and a graduate from the agriculture program at Joliet Junior College.
Gov. Bruce Rauner said in a press release on Thursday that he had accepted the resignation of Nelson, who will remain employed with the Department of Agriculture for the next 30 days to help with the transition.
There was no reason given for the resignation.
Illinois State Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, who sits on the House agriculture committee said Nelson brought “a lifetime of experience” to the job as a fourth-generation farmer.
“Just last week, I was with him in Mazon for the signing of a major ag partnership with the nation of Taiwan,” Anthony said. “I know from working with Director Nelson that his knowledge and commitment to Illinois agriculture is unmatched.”
Anthony said he doesn’t know the reason behind the resignation but was confident that Rauner “will appoint a new director that will carry forward the work to strengthen the state’s commitment to farmers, farm families and the growth of our ag manufacturing industry.”
An employee at Nelson’s office in Springfield said on Friday that Department of Agriculture Chief of Staff Warren Goetsch had already become acting director until a replacement is found.
“I appreciate Director Nelson’s commitment to agriculture and his service to the people of Illinois,” Gov. Rauner said in the press release. “I wish him all the best.”
Nelson was named as director in January this year with the support of the agriculture community.
Nelson is not only a farmer, but also a previous president of the Illinois Farm Bureau.
Mark Schneidewind, Will County Farm Bureau manager, said he was disappointed by the announcement.
“There are a lot of tough things coming with the budget,” Schneidewind said. “Phil would have been a good advocate.”
He said he was always in the trenches every day trying to help the agriculture community.
Nelson is a 1978 graduate of the agriculture program at Joliet Junior college. In 2012, he received JJC’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.
Patrick Buchen, who was named fair director under Nelson, also stepped down on Thursday.
Calls to Nelson and Buchen were not returned Friday.