For farmers in Utah, one of the most important things Congress can do is bring stability and certainty to the North American market. In the midst of so many trade disputes, nothing is more important that passing the new NAFTA now known as the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and regaining our key export markets to our country’s top trading partners.
This comes at a critical time as farmers across our state are making plans for spring planting as well as larger ones about the future of their farm or ranch. It also comes at a time of great uncertainty. For my family that has run a dairy farm in Ogden for six generations, these are the toughest times we have ever seen. On our farm, low prices for our milk has dropped our monthly revenues significantly. It has led us to look for ways to diversify income sources to stay afloat. We now operate a pumpkin patch for kids in the fall, and we are growing things like onions and corn.
Our state’s agriculture economy represents approximately 79,000 jobs and $3.5 billion in compensation, but I worry if market forces continue as they have, how many of my longtime fellow farmers on the verge of shutting down will have to make that last, hard decision. In the dairy industry alone, we are down to approximately 150 dairy farms in the state, but I’m not sure we’ll have that same number at the end of 2019. A farm or ranch shutting down is traumatic for that family business, but the ripple effects will also be felt in our communities. Situations like these are a reminder that an international trade crisis has very local ramifications.
The answer to this problem isn’t just drinking more milk, buying more vegetables or eating more hamburgers here in America – though that is always a good idea – the answer is expanded market opportunities through trade.
Trade is a major economic driver in Utah. Our state’s agriculture economy is responsible for $21 billion in total economic output – 15 percent of the state total. Utah’s dairy industry alone turns out roughly two billion pounds a year of milk (about 245 million gallons), but we don’t consume that much milk in our state. We also export a lot of hay, beef, fruit and more. We rely on being able to export these agricultural products to Mexico and Canada – as do many other small businesses and manufacturers with what they produce in our state.
The time to act is now. Passing the USMCA would give farmers like me a sense of stability that would allow us to create smart business plans for the future. Trade is about trust, and we have built this trust through the strong relationships we have built over the years with specific people and companies in Mexico and Canada. I was able to witness firsthand how trade agreements impact companies and communities when I participated on a trade mission to Mexico last year with Utah Governor Gary Herbert. The USMCA would send a message to everyone that our trading relationships matter and are secure going forward.
It also should bring an end to the uncertainty that has driven up the cost of our agriculture equipment and the retaliatory tariffs that have punished American agriculture exports. Simply put, it’s high time to put aside costly disputes and get back to business with our allies in Canada and Mexico. I urge our Congressional delegation to pass the USMCA and bring an end to the threat of tariffs.
(Ron Gibson is a Utah dairy farmer who is also President of the Utah Farm Bureau Federation. He lives in Ogden with his family. This op-ed ran in the Deseret News on Sunday, March 10, 2019)