MN Farmers Travel to DC to Talk Trade, Farm Crisis

Proposed NAFTA Replacement Benefits Corporate Ag at the Expense of Family Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Farm country is in the midst of a crisis and a proposed trade deal poses the risk of making things even worse. That was one of the key messages Minnesota farmers took to Washington, D.C., earlier this month during meetings with policymakers, including staffers with the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. The farmers are members of the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project (LSP).

“I really think we need to turn this crisis around and turn it around quickly,” said James Kanne, a Renville County dairy farmer and LSP member. “Otherwise, we will lose the backbone of rural America—our family farmers.”

Kanne, along with Alan Perish, joined other farmers from Iowa, Missouri, and South Dakota in Washington as part of a Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment fly-in. LSP is a member organization of the Campaign. One focus of the discussions they had with Congressional staffers was the trade initiative that is being proposed in Congress as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, this proposal does not address the core issues causing the farm crisis, and in fact could worsen the situation, said the farmer-delegation. For example, it does not include a provision that would require country of origin labeling for meat and other farm products. Also, it could worsen the healthcare crisis in rural America by locking in patents for drugs.

“The trade war and tariffs have been devastating for farmers and rural communities that are already struggling with low markets and bad weather,” said Perish, a retired farmer from Todd County who serves on LSP’s state policy committee. “Policymakers need to get that message loud and clear.”

Kanne, Perish, and the other farmers also called for policies that would control the increased power large agribusiness firms have over markets and agriculture policy. The meat, grain, and seed sectors of agriculture are controlled by a handful of firms, creating an anti-competitive situation that is putting farmers out of business at record levels. This comes at a time when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has made it clear that the Trump Administration supports a business-as-usual approach that prioritizes increased control of the food and farm system by a handful of firms.

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue said earlier this month at the World Dairy Expo.

“This attitude that the elimination of the independent family farmer is inevitable is both wrong and harmful,” said Kanne. “Our public officials, including Congress, can play a key role in supporting a farming system that’s good for the land, our communities and our economy. They can start by not rubber stamping a trade agreement that was basically drafted in the boardrooms of corporate America.”