MANKATO, Minn. – Working together works. A visit with Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap inevitably gets into Washington talk. But the reality today is political parties are getting farther apart rather than growing together. In a brief visit with Paap on Jan. 23 at the MN AG EXPO, he related, “It doesn’t matter where you are ... local township, your county board, the state legislature or the nation’s capital ... we get the best legislation by working together. It’s always been that way and always will be.”
Will the tit-for-tat- trade chatter continue indefinitely between China and the U.S?
Paap answered, “Trade is critically important to agriculture’s success. For us, this means trade not only with our current partners but also new partners. Obviously China, despite the current stalemate, is a huge part of that scenario. And based on the world economy, it’s getting critical.
“We need to make certain we are at the table on these discussions. Then hopefully you can do some negotiating. But if you’re not there its hopeless. Take the Canada-Mexico-U.S. newest agreement replacing NAFTA. It’s now signed off by all three countries. But getting this new version through our Congress won’t be easy. For right now, that is one of American Farm Bureau’s top priorities. Making our elected officials understand the importance of these trade agreements both for agriculture and for rural America is a difficult task.”
So why don’t elected officials understand these simple dynamics? “Because very often they don’t have any agricultural background. They simply don’t relate to American farmers feeding the entire U.S. population, but also additional millions around the world. We’re productive – the most productive agriculture in the world. Our farmers are quick to adopt new technology. But we need growing markets to support this growing productivity.
“There aren’t very many elected officials that would ignore 95-96 percent of your market share. Yet that is somewhat the delicate balance of U.S.agriculture. The economic vitality of American farmers is critical to our nation’s business health and the feeding of people everywhere else too.”
So isn’t this debate logical to even the most stubborn politician? Acknowledging the tremendous political strife ongoing in Washington D.C., Paap related, “I don’t know how many times we need to tell them the importance of agricultural trade even though trade is usually the first thing on our agenda when we are in Washington for a board meeting of American Farm Bureau. Much of today’s talk involves also the emotional and financial challenges. So many of these D.C. people seem to think that farmers are still enjoying the golden years.
“They’re simply not aware of today’s low prices for farm commodities. The only way to cure low prices is to increase demand. And the only way to increase demand is to sell more of your product to that 95 percent of the world that is not part of the United States.”
But can this portion of the world afford us? He acknowledges there will likely always be extreme poverty. “Hunger will always exist. Even in the most socialistic countries hunger persists. So surplus U.S. farm products for selected food aid has to be part of our SDA program regardless ... both domestically and with other countries simply too poor to feed their own.”
On Jan. 15,Paap was reelected to the American Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors. He echoes very much the words of AFBF President Zippy Duvall who said, "Farmers need the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement and the sooner the better. We have customers around the world. We urge Congress to approve this new USMCA agreement quickly."
“Yes, NAFTA boosted agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada dramatically," Paap said. "We’re gone from $8.9 billion to $39 billion in the 25 years since NAFTA went into effect. That’s an obvious victory in boosting our industry’s strong trade surplus with the rest of the world.”
But will the European Union become a better customer of U.S. farm products? Paap said, “The European Union will always want to be at the table with everybody and anybody. We have some issues however because the EU wants to talk trade but they don’t want to talk about agriculture. Other things are important but agriculture has to be part of any trade talks with the European Union. Yes, they continue to have concerns about biotechnology and our grain products. But their cultural battles on GMO technology are residing. If they wish to continue feeding their people they have to accept that food safety is just as important to the American family.”