Biden in Chicago: President visits Kankakee farm to discuss Russia-Ukraine's impact on food supply

During a visit Wednesday to the Chicago area, President Joe Biden praised farmers now taking financial risks to compensate for lost wheat production due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden and his agriculture secretary also promised financial help.

The president touched down at O'Hare Airport around 11:15 a.m. where he was greeted on the tarmac by Cook County Broad President Toni Preckwinkle.

In Kankakee County, family farmers Jeff and Gina O'Connor showed Biden around their 800-acre spread.

"The wheat this year – it's a beautiful crop! I mean it's absolutely stunning to look at this time of year," Jeff said.

The O’Connor’s hope to harvest in July the wheat they showed the president today. Then they plan to plant and harvest soybeans, as long as an early frost doesn’t damage the crop. O’Connor said he’d been unable to obtain crop insurance, even though climate change has added a month of frost-free growing days in northern Illinois.

O’Connor noted the price of fertilizer, much of which used to come from Russia, is soaring.

"The costs of a double crop are going up immensely," Jeff told Biden and Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture. "And now we have a big investment that we're just doing on our own."

"That’s why my administration is working on how to extend crop insurance coverage to give financial security to farmers like Jeff, who practice double-cropping," Biden responded.


The president also announced a doubling of the federal assistance for fertilizer production, from $250 million to $500 million.

"It’s so desperately needed," Biden said. "We can’t take chances."

Looming over it all is a threat of starvation in places that have historically relied on grain from Ukraine, which normally produces about 20% of the world’s wheat. Russia's invasion has disrupted planting, and its naval blockade and active bombardment of Ukraine’s port facilities prevents exports.

Large parts of Africa and the Middle East count on Ukrainian wheat.

"Putin has warships, battleships preventing the access to the Ukrainian ports," Biden said. "Ukraine says they have 20 million tons of grain in their silos right now – 20 million tons. And guess what? If those tons don't get to market, an awful lot of people in Africa are going to starve to death."

Later in the day, in a campaign-style speech to the Electrical Workers Union, Biden conferred a new nickname on former President Donald Trump, who has called Biden "Sleepy Joe" and other derogatory soubriquets.

"Under my predecessor, the ‘Great MAGA King,’ the deficit increased every single year he was president. And this year, we're on track to cut the federal deficit by one trillion, five hundred billion dollars – the biggest decline in debt ever in American history," Biden said.

The president’s speech to a union convention at McCormick Place made no mention of today's new consumer price index numbers – showing inflation remains near 40-year highs.

Last October, Biden landed Air Force One at O’Hare for an event in Elk Grove Village promoting his orders for larger businesses to mandate COVID-19 vaccines or weekly tests.

The president joked at that event that "Fox News requires vaccinations for all employees. Give me a break. Fox News." Biden did a version of that same joke during his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last Saturday.

Biden delivered his remarks at a suburban Chicago data center that Clayco, a construction company, is building for Microsoft.

The venue was selected because Clayco, headquartered in Chicago, was among the first wave of companies voluntarily following Biden’s order that at the time required larger companies to ask workers to be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.