The roots of the Illinois Department of Agriculture go back to 1819, when the Illinois Agricultural Association was formed just months after Illinois became a state. The only known record of this organization comes from letters written by early settlers.
In 1853, the association became the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with a 2-year budget of $1,000. The society was active until April 15, 1871 when a new state constitution created the Illinois Department of Agriculture, overseen by the State Board of Agriculture.
The department gained its current status as a regulatory and promotional agency in 1917 under the Civil Administrative Code. Today the Illinois Department of Agriculture administers an annual budget of more than $100 million and employs more than 300 people statewide, with several hundred more temporary employees hired during the Illinois State Fair and Du Quoin State Fair. Separate bureaus administer programs and services directed at conserving the state's land and water resources; protecting the health and welfare of livestock and companion animals; overseeing state and county fairs; regulating seed, feed and fertilizer products; ensuring the financial stability of grain dealers and warehouses; promoting Illinois food and agricultural products; and operating the state's horse racing programs.
Since 1981, the department has been headquartered on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield.