Bill Wallbrown, President of Deerfield Ag Services, has recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Sonny Perdue, United State Secretary of Agriculture, to discuss some of the most important issues farmers face today. The full interview will be featured in the upcoming issue of our magazine, Bountiful. However, we wanted to release a special preview of the interview for our customers and readers. Enjoy, and keep an eye out for the full interview in our upcoming issue.
Bill Wallbrown: Obviously one of the big questions on trade is everything that’s going on right now has had a dramatic impact on agriculture, maybe more so than on other industries. China is obviously a very large importer of our soybeans, I have seen statistics where every third row of soy¬beans goes to China, so that’s a very important market to us. What are we thinking, where are we at? I mean farmers are very big supporters of Trump. In our business, I can’t think of one farmer that we deal with that does not support President Trump.
Secretary Perdue: I agree with you Bill, and I tell the President rather frequently that the farmers applaud his “America first”. They are some of the best patriots in America, tilling our soil but they can’t pay their bills on patriotism and that’s the challenge. So while we hope we can get NAFTA solved sooner rather than later, get a deal with Mexico and then follow with Canada and after that the China situation, most of us applaud President Trump because most of us know China has been cheating for a long time. We don’t like cheating, and I used a metaphor this morning that kind of…I sort of just thought about and maybe because I just started another weight loss plan, this trade disruption we have is a little like losing weight. It’s painful while you’re going through it, but you feel so much better afterward. So we hope that’s the President’s objective, and he’s assured me over and over again that it’s going to be better for American economy and American farmers than what we’ve had before and to some degree, we understand that China has had a lot of non-tariff barriers and protectionism as well as the EU. So I think he’s got everyone’s attention. The sad part about it is these trade disputes are a little bit like droughts, if you get a flood or you get a hurricane or tornado, it’s sort of episodic and it comes through and does it’s damage and you come back and rebuild. A drought is more debilitating as it goes along because you don’t know how long it’s going to be there. So that’s sort of the debilitating nature of trade disputes and hopefully they can be resolved sooner rather than later, That’s sort of in China’s camp. They need not continue to retaliate, but to agree to right some of the wrongs they’ve had over a number of years. With that having been said, I don’t know of a farmer who would rather not have a good crop at a fair price than a government check. But if we are expecting farmers to suffer economically, I believe as a country we owe it to them to help them recover. Not that we could ever make anybody whole, but we’re working on a mitigation strategy now regarding trade laws that I’m presenting to the administrative and the trade cabinet, uh, be presenting to the President soon over how we would then implement that.
Bill Wallbrown: One thing I’ve heard the President bring up on several occasions is the disparity we have with Canada. Canadian farmers, particularly dairy farmers, their price of milk versus our price of milk, so how would we rectify that type of situation? They’re getting about 80 dollars per hundred-weight and we’re getting about 16 here in the U.S., and dairy farmers are hurting.
Secretary Perdue: They’re probably one of the hurting sectors, as much as anyone, the dairy farmers. People that are smaller, dairy farms, larger ones seem to be surviving okay. But those in your part of the world, Pennsylvania and that area, are really hurting. I think again, Canada, while we have a NAFTA agreement, it certainly haven’t been free trade when we were moving our country into Canada and we call them on this class seven milk which is nothing more than a circumvention of their policy of supply management…but they haven’t managed their supply, they’ve allowed their producers to over-produce and they’ve put it on the world market and that depresses all the prices, so we call them on that. I think again, uh, I don’t know if Canada can do away with their whole supply management system, but never the less they need to manage that supply for domestic use and not participate in world trade on that.
Bill Wallbrown: So you mentioned NAFTA. Obviously NAFTA is something that is very important. Do you think we are going to get NAFTA fixed or do unilateral and bilateral trade agreements…in other words, directly with Canada, directly with Mexico? How do you feel that’s going to play out?
Secretary Perdue: I think we’ll get NAFTA renewed, modernized, but we’ll probably do it legging into it with an agreement with Mexico first and then go to Canada and the issues between the two countries are vastly different. The Mexican challenge is really going over all the auto parts as we’ve seen so much or our auto production go south of the border. With Canada, it’s more of the types of things we talked about earlier, with dairy restrictions. We have a wheat grading issue out in the plains. We have wine being placed behind barriers where Canadian wine was out front, people have to go to Great Lakes to buy US wine. So those are irritants that we will be discussing with Canada. And I think we could probably get a deal with them as well.