Written by Jonathan Eisenthal
A panel of national farm leaders at Farmfest last week spoke with unanimity about farmers’ need to take an aggressive, and ultimately optimistic approach to trade in order to survive the body blow of trade disputes with China.
“Corn growers’ number one priority is increasing the demand for corn,” said Harold Wolle, a farmer in St. James, Minnesota. “We need to keep after trade.”
Wolle is a board member of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and also serves on the National Corn Growers Association Corn Board.
The Market Facilitation Program (MFP) promises billions of dollars in direct aid to farmers from the Trump administration in an attempt to offset the loss of trade markets. However, many farmers at Farmfest expressed the view: “trade not aid,” meaning that farmers prefer to make their living selling their products in free markets rather than receiving subsidies to get by.
Wolle assured attendees that farmers would continue to pursue export markets to replace China. Scott Vanderwal, vice president of Farm Bureau, expressed hope that the Trump administration would return to the negotiations and quickly resolve the trade dispute with China. Rob Larew, vice president of National Farmers Union, noted the possibility that the China market may never come back, regardless of any eventual trade settlement. Even now, China is investing billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure in South America to help source soybeans from there, he said.
Tamara Nelsen, director of Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, noted that U.S. agriculture is 2.5 times more dependent on exports than other industries. She expressed hope that U.S. Congress would ratify the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) and that this Agreement could be used to court other potential U.S. trading partners to make bilateral free trade agreements. The momentum of USMCA passage could potentially reignite the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks, she predicted.
In looking ahead, Wolle reminded the farmers in the audience that their checkoff dollars support the U.S. Grains Council, a trade organization that spent two decades working with U.S. farmers to create and build markets in China. The Grains Council can be counted on as a partner in helping identify and develop alternative markets for Minnesota-grown corn and other agricultural products, he said.