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President’s mixed messages cloud farming’s future

Alex Wong, Getty Images President Donald Trump
Many U.S. growers are dumbfounded by Trump administration actions which some view as barriers to expanded agricultural trade and exports

Many U.S. farmers and ranchers have been dumbfounded by the actions of the Trump administration which some view as barriers to maintain, much less expand, agricultural trade and exports; thereby threatening the opportunity for future farm prosperity and profitability.

This is a severe threat to agriculture as one in three farmed acres in the U.S. is exported, and 23 percent of raw U.S. farm products are exported annually, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

The President’s decision after taking office in January for the U.S. to back out of the proposed Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement between the U.S. Mexico, Canada, Japan, and eight other countries dumbfounded U.S. farmers and their commodity organizations, as many of them strongly endorsed U.S. ratification of the agreement.

Then the President fired shots at the U.S.’s second and third largest agricultural export markets, Canada and Mexico respectively; all three parties to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed into law 20 years ago.

NAFTA has saved U.S. jobs, said economist Gordon Hanson at the University of California-San Diego, who noted that NAFTA has helped the U.S. compete against China. Now the President suggests that NAFTA should be negotiated - not eliminated.

On the agricultural side of the fence, there are winners and losers in every proposed trade agreement for agriculture. Etched in my brain is a conversation several years after NAFTA took effect with a Southwestern U.S. citrus farmer who grew fruit near the U.S.-Mexico border. He told me NAFTA’s passage threatened the financial viability of his fruit operation.

Making the President’s actions on U.S. agricultural exports even more confusing was the lack of a helmsman at USDA. It took 90-plus days for the President’s nomination of Sonny Perdue of Georgia to pass the U.S. Senate to serve as the 31st U.S. Agriculture Secretary. Much of the delay was time for Mr. Perdue to divest his agricultural holdings.

Secretary Perdue is supported by a wide array of agricultural groups and President Trump should closely weigh his Secretary’s guidance. A strong helmsman can steadily guide U.S. agriculture on the path toward profitability if the President has a listening ear.

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