U.S. SECRETARY of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to leaders of industry and local governments as well as members of the agriculture community during a visit to the CenterPoint logistics center last Friday. Joining Vilsak on a tour of the facilities were (back row, from left) State Rep. Larry Walsh Jr., Joliet Mayor Tom Giarrante, DeLong Company export sales manager Brandon Bickham, U.S. Representative Bill Foster, Frank Halpin, Will County Executive Larry Walsh, Kankakee County Board Chairman Mike Bossert and Speaker of the Will County Board Herb Brooks Jr. Illinois Secretary of Agriculture Bob Flider is not pictured. Photo by Pam Monson
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited the CenterPoint Intermodal Center on Friday, March 28, as part of a tour of the Chicago trade hub, and stopped at the DeLong Company in Joliet to discuss the important role of agricultural exports to Illinois' and the nation's economy.
DeLong Company, based in Clinton, IA buys dry distiller grains (DDGs) from facilities in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin sells it to companies and countries abroad. DDG is a high-protein feed additive that is the byproduct of biofuel production.
On the national level, agriculture exports have had the strongest five-year period of growth in U.S. history, and set a new record in calendar year 2013 at $144.1 billion.
"We've just gone through a period of time where agricultural exports, facilitated by areas like this, in the last five years have been the best five years for agricultural exports in the history of the country," Secretary Vilsack said. "And because they have grown and increased to record levels, we now support more than 1 million jobs ... It's a phenomenal story."
Illinois was part of that export record, having shipped $8.3 billion in agricultural products overseas last year.
Vilsack recognized the important role Illinois plays in agriculture, and the way industries like DeLong Company work with farmers and other industries to contribute to the national economy.
"I would say that if there's one word that describes what goes on in rural America, it is really partnership," Vilsack said. "This facility is partnering with producers in Illinois and frankly across the United States. Very few people fully appreciate the magnitude of agriculture and food processing in this country.
The agricultural industry produces 5 percent of the United States' gross domestic product, and one out of every 12 jobs is connected in some manner to agriculture and food processing.
The United States is food secure; the nation depends on no one else to produce its food. That food security, Vilsack said, is provided by a relatively small percentage of the workforce - less than one-tenth of 1 percent of America's population produces almost all of the food consumed here.
"Hardly anybody in the world can say that," Vilsack said.
In addition, we have extraordinary access to the food that we produce, and leave the grocery store with more money in our pocket than anywhere else. Americans spend about 10 percent of their earnings on food, whereas those in most developed countries spend 20 to 25 percent and in developing countries, food costs consume up to 50 percent of an individual's income.
"So not only do we have great access, we have great accessibility," he continued.
Part of the purpose of the trade hub tour was to discuss the recently approved farm bill with the local farm community.
Read more about the provisions of the farm bill, as well as the threat facing the alternative fuel industry in the Wednesday, April 2, 2014 edition of The Free Press Advocate.