While U.S. farmers and ranchers spent August fretting over escalating tariffs and retreating markets, two ag policy experts used the month to publish a series of five columns that artfully — and courageously — skinned most of agriculture's sacred cows even as they planted new policy ideas for farm and ranch success. (All five columns are posted at www.agpolicy.org/articles18.htm under "August 2018.")
The Trump Administration's good cop/bad cop approach to U.S. trade policy was on full display Aug. 27 when President Donald J. Trump, the bad cop that day, announced a very incomplete NAFTA trade deal — fueled by his heavy use of tariffs — that pointedly excluded Canada. (NAFTA, or Nafta, is the North American Free Trade Agreement now under re-negotiation between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.)
An early hallmark of the Trump Administration's management of American farm policy is its uncanny ability to pick fights that are as costly to win as they are to lose. For example, even if the President's import tariff plans succeed, how many ag exports will American farmers lose before the White House declares victory and moves on? So far, in the short run, the cost is $12 billion in taxpayer money the White House already has ticketed to soften the tariffs' impact on American ag. In the long run, tens of billions more.
Cool, foggy August mornings like today inevitably carry the 50-year-old sounds of the milking parlor where my father and herdsman Howard spent tens of thousands of hours together over nearly four decades. The pair — one a college near-graduate, the other an eighth-grade graduate of the schoolhouse you could see from the dairy barn — rarely spoke. They fulfilled their milking tasks more with a series of nods than a string of words or sentences.
The only Washington, D.C. area team having a worse year than the Baltimore Orioles, an awful 34-78 on Aug. 6, is big food's biggest, richest lobbying arm, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, or the GMA. Most American farmers and ranchers don't know GMA by its acronym; they do, however, know its work: it was the organizer and checkbook behind the defeat of several state initiatives to label genetically modified food in the early 2010s.
The day U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the White House plan to spread $12 billion of taxpayer salve on its festering tariff wound, November soybean futures ended their day completely unimpressed — down a sleepy 2.5 cents. Farmers echoed the market reaction; they, too, were unimpressed with the bailout. "Trade, not aid," was their polite, but pointed take on the handout.
Sometimes it's even hard for me to believe what I read in the newspaper. The latest "someone-really-said-that?" moment arrived courtesy of The Milkweed, the sharp-penned, monthly dairy newspaper owned and edited by Peter Hardin in Brooklyn, Wisconsin. In its July 2018 issue, Milkweed writer Jan Shepel highlighted the controversy fueled by Marin Bozic, a dairy foods marketing economist from the University of Minnesota, in testimony before a joint legislative committee hosted by the Minnesota state senate last February.
Every July, Congress begins to pack its collective bag to escape the scorching heat and suffocating humidity of Capitol Hill. And that's just inside the Senate and House; outside it's even worse. Trapped in this year's pressure cooker is the 2018 Farm Bill. While the Senate and House each passed their versions earlier this summer, neither is in a hurry to stir the two together before leaving town.
On the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, July was a slow, sweet bridge between spring's hard hustle and fall's quickening step. The unofficial usher of July's slowdown was my grandfather, a bond broker known more for his giddy-up than reining in. Most Thursdays and every Saturday year-around, Grandpa visited clients throughout southern Illinois. Every trip, no matter where it started, ended at the farm, his largest personal investment.
Prince Edward Island, caressed in eastern Canada's provincial arms of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is a lovely place to visit in June. Its sparkling red sand beaches, miles of white-blossomed potato fields, and rolling carpets of lush pasture form a color-soaked postcard for tourists and locals alike. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue caught a glimpse of this maritime Eden June 15 during his day-long visit with Lawrence MacAulay, Canada's Agriculture Minister, at MacAulay's dairy and potato farm that overlooks St. Peter's Bay on the island's north shore.