Farm Bureau Brings NAFTA Issues To Reed During Visit

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, met with more than a dozen area farmers, including dairy, beef and grape growers, to hear their concerns about the state of agriculture in Chautauqua County. Reed is pictured with Chautauqua County Farm Bureau president Dick Kimball as County Executive George Borrello looks on. Photos by Mary Heyl

WESTFIELD — President Trump’s “trade war” seems to be hitting very close to home for many farmers in Chautauqua County.

On Monday, members of the Chautauqua County Farm Bureau met with Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, at Grape View Dairy Farm in Westfield to voice their concerns over the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. imports in Canada, China, the European Union and Mexico. While Reed is hopeful that agreements will soon be reached, Monday’s gathering revealed that the trade war is one more challenge to add to the growing list of disadvantages that area farmers face.

Members of the Farm Bureau presented Reed with a list of action items and concerning statistics regarding trade, agricultural labor and transportation. The list detailed the 25 percent tariff imposed by the EU on U.S. imports of sweet corn and other produce; Canada’s 25 percent tariff on yogurt, maple syrup and tomato products; Mexico’s 20 percent tariff on cheese, apples and juices; and China’s 25 percent tariff on dairy products, apples, grapes and more.

For New York state in particular, these tariffs are alarming. The Farm Bureau cited the USDA’s NASS report and Dairy Export Council 2017 report: New York ranks eighth in the country for sweet corn, number one for yogurt and number two for maple syrup. Additionally, the Lake Erie region is the largest grape growing region east of the Rocky Mountains.

Reed acknowledged the challenge this presents to farmers in his district. “I do know, right now in particular, that dairy is struggling…We have reached a tentative agreement with Mexico. That should go a long way as we look at the NAFTA agreement with Canada and Mexico.” Reed went on to explain that once the tentative agreement with Mexico is formalized, Canada will be soon to follow.

County Executive George Borrello weighed in on the matter from a local perspective.

“Agriculture is our No. 1 industry here in Chautauqua County,” he stated. “The impact that it has for every dollar that’s generated here — that multiplier impacts everyone in Chautauqua County. So having a healthy agricultural market is critically important to our economy here in the county. What I believe, from an economic standpoint, we need to do is create markets because as demand ebbs and flows locally and even nationally, the international market opening up fairly is key to long term stability in the marketplace. … We certainly have a lot to lose in a trade war, but fair trade is really the key to long term success, in my opinion.”

Chautauqua County Farm Bureau president Dick Kimball of Dewittville pointed out, “We already had duty-free trade for dairy with Mexico. So, this whole trade war to me seems to be throwing agriculture under the bus to get something else.”

Kimball acknowledged that the current dairy surplus has presented a challenge, as the surplus has dropped prices for dairy. “But tariff talks dropped our future prices 10 percent,” Kimball pointed out. “In a bad market, we’re talking 10 percent more. So, we really need to get this done sooner rather than later. We really need you to encourage your fellow congressmen and the administration. This really hurts.”

Reed recognized Kimball’s concerns and pointed to Mexico as hope that agreements will be reached with other countries soon. He also posed a question to Kimball: “How do we deal with the supply issue at the same time we deal with the demand issue, which is market access, in a way to get us through this storm? If we lose these farms, they don’t come back. You carve them up, you parcel them off and sell an acre here and an acre there to pay the bills, and then we lose them. For me, that’s not acceptable. We live here not just because of the economics of a farm, which is important, but it’s who we are — it’s a way of life. We’re trying to weather that storm to get us there so that you don’t go through these peaks and valleys that you guys are going through that you just can’t survive.”

Kimball chuckled ruefully. “I don’t have the answer to that either.”

Reed opened up the conversation to other farmers in attendance. Suggestions included taking cows off the market to reduce the surplus, instituting programs not based on farm size so that all farms can benefit equally and giving multigenerational farmers the same opportunities as new farmers. While there are still many issues to be addressed, Reed is working to see the passage of the Farm Bill by the end of the year.