BURLINGTON — A panel representing Wisconsin growers and producers Thursday stressed to U.S. Congressman Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, the fate of famers relies on their ability to export, and the elimination of retaliatory tariffs.
Steil, who held an agriculture and trade field hearing in Burlington, and federal administration officials heard how important timely passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is to the future of the industry.
“We cannot add cows and milk our way out of this recession,” Cindy Leitner, president of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, said. “The dairy industry is in a crisis. This trade agreement has to be approved.
“The retaliation tariffs have got to be removed. We’ve got to do it quickly. We can’t wait six months. We have been doing this for five years. Our industry is out of time.”
They also heard from bankers how prices lower than the cost of production have affected their clients, who have had to restructure their debt, defer equipment purchases and maintenance, tap into their real estate equity or file for bankruptcy.
“We need to make sure we have a place to take our products we are growing and raising here in Wisconsin and be able to sell them around the globe,” Steil said. “I think that is mission critical.”
He said he was disheartened to hear how many farmers have called it quits.
“I did not grow up as farmer, so I am spending the time and effort to make sure we fully understand what is going on in our agricultural community, to make sure we are protecting farmers and we don’t have farmers who are told they should no longer farm; they should hold on to their equity,” Steil said.
Steil said the goal needs to be to improve market access for farmers in Canada and Mexico and that the USMCA provides a template for future trade agreements.
“It is imperative we get it right,” Steil said.
Aaron Stauffacher, director of public affairs for the Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, said while the number of dairy farms are down, agriculture is still important to the 1st Congressional District.
“There are about 190 dairy farmers left in your district and about 35,000 cows,” Stauffacher said.
She said USMCA builds on the improvements already secured through the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“Pre-NAFTA we were exporting about 3 percent of our product, and today, based on last year’s numbers, we’re exporting about 15.8 percent of dairy products in terms of milk solids,” Stauffacher said.
“When you think about it, one day of every week’s milk production is leaving or borders. Our NAFTA trading partners account for about 40 percent of that.”
John Scott, a Racine County dairy producer and member of the Farm Bureau, said the USMCA “checks a lot of the boxes,”
“It’s time to take action on this,” Scott said.
Randy Hughes, a producer from Rock County, said if U.S. producers can’t be a reliable source of food for Mexico and Canada, it could affect market shares in other countries.
“The longer we go, the less dependable we are,” Hughes said. “The rest of the world is really gong to start to doubt us. We need this, Congressman Steil. We need this really bad.”