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ANKENY, IOWA — U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told a group of striking John Deere employees on Wednesday that he is standing behind them because the UAW has stood behind him.

Vilsack made a surprise visit to the picketers in Ankeny around 3:30pm on Wednesday. This is the seventh day of the strike that affects more than 10,000 John Deere employees at 12 plants in five states – including three Iowa plants.

Vilsack told the group of union workers gathered outside the Ankeny plant that the UAW has long supported him against big odds, and he wanted to repay that support. “I was running for governor in this state and I was 23 points behind with a couple of weeks to go in the race,” Vilsack said, talking about the 1998 Iowa gubernatorial race, “Throughout that entire process I had great support from UAW – the men and women who work in plants across this state. You don’t forget the men and women who gave you an opportunity to serve. You just don’t.”

Vilsack was in Iowa along with his counterpart, Mexico’s ag secretary, to discuss trade agreements. Among the items of discussion were Mexico’s ban on growing GMO corn – but not on importing it. That agreement could open markets of Iowa growers.