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CCFB News» October 2020

The Importance of the Port Cook County Remains Critical Shipping Port for Agricultural Transport

10/03/2020 @ 9:00 am | By Carrie Steinweg, Special Feature Writer

Getting agricultural products from a farm to a consumer is a process that involves more steps than you may realize. In some cases, the transport is done by truck and by rail, but there's also a large amount that has an added step of being moved by water and Cook County happens to be huge shipping hub.


As the largest Midwestern city and the third largest in the country in terms of population, Chicago is also the largest city on the Great Lakes and a place that continues to be one of the biggest drivers of the U.S. economy. Its large labor force, central location, and access to the Great Lakes as well as the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois to Mississippi Rivers have made its port critical in the transportation of goods.


Although the Illinois International Port District, which encompasses the Port of Chicago along the city's south side, has seen decline in use over the past century, it remains a crucial component in delivering agricultural needs throughout the world with acess to six of the seven North American Class I railroads and two of the nation's most important waterways. It still has two functional elevators that store 14 million bushels of grain.


According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries. Illinois is the nation's second leading exporter of both soybeans and feed grains and related products and approximately 44 percent of grain produced in Illinois is sold for export. 


Rodney Knittel, Assistant Director of Transportation and Infrastructure with the Illinois Farm Bureau, said that Cook County's shipping port being located in a region where corn and soybeans grow well means that the port is a launching spot for sending animal feed and grain for human consumption to other regions of the county and other countries throughout the world where it can't be grown easily.


Inland ports, like the one in Cook County, are just one piece of a successful transport journey. Nothing arrives from its point of origin to its final destination by water alone and the fact that 25 percent of all freight trains in the country go through Cook County only reinforces the important role Cook County plays in getting products of any kind into the hands of customers. Knittel noted that in a world where we push a button to order our groceries, it has to be shipped in one way or another, which only increases truck, rail, and boat traffic and puts Cook County in a position to remain a leader in shipping for years to come. 


Carrie Steinweg is a freelance writer, author, blogger and photographer living in Chicago's south suburbs with her husband and five sons. Her work has appeared in dozens of print and online publications and she is the author of seven books. A passionate foodie, Carrie thoroughly enjoys traveling and visiting new restaurants and craft breweries, attending food festivals and trying out new recipes and kitchen gadgets. She writes about her food experiences at

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