U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talks about the role that American agriculture plays in supplying food, feed and fuel to the rest of the world. Vilsack visited the Joliet, Ill., facility of The DeLong Co., which loads shipping containers with grain and dried distiller grains to ship overseas. The Joliet facility is near the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, the largest inland port in North America. Vilsack praised the efforts of American farmers and talked about the next task for him and his staff — implementing the recently passed 2014 farm bill. Vilsack was joined by local and Will County officials, as well as Brandon Bickham, grain division export sales manager for DeLong, and Bob Flider, Illinois director of agriculture.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack talks about the role that American agriculture plays in supplying food, feed and fuel to the rest of the world. Vilsack visited the Joliet, Ill., facility of The DeLong Co., which loads shipping containers with grain and dried distiller grains to ship overseas. The Joliet facility is near the CenterPoint Intermodal Center, the largest inland port in North America. Vilsack praised the efforts of American farmers and talked about the next task for him and his staff — implementing the recently passed 2014 farm bill. Vilsack was joined by local and Will County officials, as well as Brandon Bickham, grain division export sales manager for DeLong, and Bob Flider, Illinois director of agriculture.
JOLIET, Ill. — Tom Vilsack told part of the story, but the surroundings at The DeLong Co.’s Joliet container facility spoke without words.

Jobs. Added value for American ag products. Stable farm incomes. Opportunities for local farmers.

“Very few people fully appreciate the magnitude of agriculture and food processing in this country,” Vilsack, the U.S. secretary of agriculture, told an audience at DeLong’s facility.

Vilsack was at DeLong to talk about agricultural exports. He was joined by Joliet and Will County officials, as well as U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.; Bob Flider, Illinois director of agriculture; and Brandon Bickham, grain division export sales manager for DeLong.

Workers in reflective vests, hard hats and safety glasses, who were able to take a few minutes from their daily duties, illustrated the jobs point. The line of grain trucks on the periphery of the parking lot, waiting to dump their loads of grain and dried distiller grains, spoke to added value and increased opportunities for local farmers.

“It is 5 percent of our gross domestic product. One out of every 12 jobs in this country is connected in one way, shape or form to agriculture and food processing,” Vilsack said.

“We’ve just gone through a period of time when agricultural exports, facilitated by areas like this, in the last five years, have been the best five years of agricultural exports in the history of the country,” he said.

One byproduct of increased export activity is a jump in the number of jobs related to agriculture and food processing. DeLong’s Joliet facility supports 15 full-time jobs.

“Without agriculture and without food processing, some of the folks who work here might not be employed,” Vilsack said.

Agriculture’s Reach

He praised the facility as an example of how far agriculture reaches.

“I will tell you that I think at times American agriculture is underappreciated and when you come to a facility like this, you realize the enormity of what American agriculture is. I couldn’t help but notice the trainloads of DDGS as we were traversing the area between here and Chicago. It’s just an amazing story,” he said.

Dried distiller grain is one byproduct of corn ethanol production. The high-protein feed ingredient is used by livestock farmers in the U.S. and overseas.

DDGS has found a particularly welcome market in China and throughout Asia, where arable land to grow feed grains is limited.

Another byproduct of record U.S. farm production in recent years can be found on the tables — and in the wallets — of American consumers.

“It is also a phenomenal story because America is food secure. That means that we basically don’t have to depend on anyone else for the food that we consume in this country. Our food security is provided by a relatively small percentage of our country,” Vilsack said.

He noted the celebration of National Agriculture Day on March 25 as “an opportunity for us to focus on and express appreciation to our producers.”

“Less than one-tenth of 1 percent of America’s population produces almost all of what we consume in this country, and we rely on no other country for our food,” he said.

Vilsack also noted that Americans spend less of their incomes on food than nearly any other country in the world.

“We spend about 10 percent of our paycheck on food, and that compares to about 20 to 25 percent in most developed countries and 50 percent in developing countries,” he said.

Vilsack also talked to the audience, which included local farmers, about one of the top items on his “to do” list — implementing the recently passed 2014 farm bill.

“We are very focused on implementing the farm bill because we recognize the importance of American agriculture to our national security, our economic security, our energy security,” he said.

Welcome Words

That was what at least one farmer who attended the event was hoping to hear.

“When I got the opportunity to talk to him just now, I said it’s great that we passed a farm bill, now it’s all about implementation. There are a lot of changes that are going to happen, and we need to make sure the implementation of this farm bill that they worked so hard to pass, that it gets out to the farmer and supports them,” said Jason Bunting, president of the Livingston County Farm Bureau and a farmer near Emington.

Bunting said he was happy to see Vilsack take time to come to Will County and talk about agriculture and exports.

“It’s nice to seem him get here and explain the importance of ag exports,” he said.

That includes implementing a livestock disaster assistance program and the provisions of the crop insurance program, as well as continuing the programs included under the largest portion of the farm bill — nutrition programs.

“We will spend a good deal of time this spring and summer making sure farmers fully understand the new changes in the farm bill in terms of the farm safety net so that by fall and early winter, they will be in a position to make the selections they have to make under these new safety net programs and be able to do so in an informed way,” Vilsack said.

Biofuel interests will be included on a trade mission to China in May, Vilsack said, to promote not just U.S. biofuels byproducts overseas, but the fuels themselves, ethanol and biodiesel.

“We think there’s opportunity in places like China, Japan and India to acquaint consumers there with what our consumers here have found, which is that it can reduce the cost of gas if you have a robust biofuels industry,” he said.

Vilsack gently reminded Foster that Congress’s work for agriculture is not yet finished.

“Congressman, we’ve got a budget, we’ve got a farm bill, the only other thing I would ask is it would be great if we could get immigration reform. If we get that, we get a stable and secure workforce for a lot of agriculture today,” he said.