Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commemorated USDA's 150th anniversary today at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
President Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act of Congress that established the USDA in 1862. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum provided several artifacts for viewing before and after the ceremony. Included was the USDA's first published report, signed by its first secretary, Isaac Newton.
Vilsack notes that the USDA was originally under the auspices of the Department of the Interior. In 1888, President Grover Cleveland gave the USDA its own place in the Cabinet.
In discussing Lincoln's vision for the department, Vilsack notes, "As the country has become more urban, the USDA is more important."
Today, approximately 2% of the U.S. population actively farms. Still, Vilsack notes 1 in 12 jobs nationally is directly tied to ag. Last year, agriculture accounted for $137 billion in exports. For every $1 billion, 8,400 jobs are created, Vilsack adds.
Jim Larkin, acting director for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, was also on hand. He discussed Illinois' significant contribution to the overall ag industry. Despite urban sprawl, 75% of Illinois' land is still dedicated farmland. The state produces 16% of the U.S. corn crop and 13% of the soybean crop. One in four Illinois jobs is directly related to agriculture.
After his speech, Vilsack unveiled the 150th anniversary logo and recognized various FFA members as the ag industry's future. He also discussed a variety of issues during a brief press conference.
One of the hot topics of the day was the recent free trade agreements signed by President Barack Obama with Columbia, South Korea and Panama. Vilsack notes the agreements will add approximately $2.3 billion to the ag export sector. Of that $2.3 billion, about $1.9 billion comes from South Korea.
"The Korean opportunity along, when you combine with with what we're already doing in Korea, will be worth the equivalent of the nine previous free trade agreements that we've signed," Vilsack notes.