Trade lawyer questions NAFTA negotiating tactics

The North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations are continuing, with several contentious issues to work through. A Veteran international trade lawyer is questioning Washington’s NAFTA negotiating tactics and wants to warn American agriculture groups to keep a sharp eye on how things develop and progress.

NAFTA Negotiating tactics

Daniel Ujczo is an International Trade Lawyer with Dickinson Wright law firm in Columbus, Ohio. He’s concerned about America’s NAFTA negotiating tactics and wants agriculture to keep the pressure on for a positive outcome. (contributed photo)

Dan Ujczo is an International Trade and Customs Attorney for Dickinson Wright Law Firm in Columbus, Ohio. He specializes in Canada-United States trade matters, so he’s keeping an especially close eye on the NAFTA negotiations. There are seven rounds in the discussions, and he noted that the most aggressive positions on trade began to show up during Round 3. He’s worried about the tenor and tone of the Trump Administration during these negotiations.

“We saw the U.S. begin to put forth very aggressive proposals in Round 3 up in Ottawa,” Ujczo said. “The first one was on government procurement, also known as “Buy American,” which basically said the U.S. is going to cut back on the number of government contracts Canada and Mexico are allowed to procure. At the same time, the U.S. wants Canada and Mexico to allow more American participation in bidding on their government contracts.”

He said that’s when feathers first began ruffling. Round 4 saw some aggressive proposals on automotive rules-of-origin, which the U.S. wants to bump from 62 percent North American content to 85 percent. The Trump Administration wants 50 percent of that 85 percent number to come from North America. Ujczo said there are no free-trade agreements in the world that have a nation-specific rule-of-origin like that.

The Canadian supply-management program restricts the amounts of American dairy, poultry, and eggs that get into Canada. Ujczo said Canada’s called it a “red line” that they won’t cross. It’s something to keep an eye on as the U.S. negotiators have already come out against the supply-management system.

“The U.S. is also talking about a sunset provision, meaning NAFTA would automatically terminate after five years unless Congress reauthorizes it,” he said. “Those are things that will cause Canada and Mexico to carefully consider their next moves. There is a very real possibility that the U.S. knows that Canada and Mexico can’t negotiate on issues like that, which means we’re left with one conclusion.”

Ujczo said that conclusion is, in his mind, the U.S. NAFTA negotiating tactics may be designed to try and get Canada and Mexico to walk away from NAFTA. If they don’t, he said the Trump Administration very well could walk away by the end of this year. He feels the Trump Administration doesn’t necessarily want to walk away from the deal, rather, they’re more concerned about “making America great again.”

Here is the complete discussion. Is he right? Is he just being politically motivated? I didn’t get the sense he was. It felt more like a warning to American agriculture to keep making your voices heard.

Wertish elected MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union PresidentCongratulations to Renville County, Minnesota farmers Gary Wertish, just elected as the new President of the Minnesota Farmers Union. A well-deserved honor. I spent several years as Farm Director at KLGR radio in Redwood Falls and saw on a first-hand basis that Gary tirelessly worked for farmers. He’ll do a fantastic job as the new President, taking over for the retired Doug Peterson.

Gary Wertish, MN Farmers Union President

Gary Wertish was elected as the new Minnesota Farmers Union President during a special election on Saturday, January 21. He replaces the recently retired Doug Peterson as the head of the organization. (photo from myklgr.com)

Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU) held a special election on Saturday, January 21, 2017 to elect a new President.

Former MFU Vice President, Gary Wertish was elected by Minnesota Farmers Union board members on Saturday to be the 10th President of Minnesota Farmers Union.

Gary has served as the Vice President of Minnesota Farmers Union since 2009, and has filled in as interim President since Peterson’s retirement.
Prior to being elected as Vice President, Gary had worked as a field representative for Farmers Union. Gary has also worked for then-Senator Mark Dayton as his Agricultural Director. He farms with one of his sons, raising corn, soybeans, and navy beans.

“Today marks a new era within the Farmers Union organization. Being elected as the new President is humbling” remarked Gary Wertish “I look forward to continue working with entire Farmers Union membership, along with other agricultural groups to enhance the economic interests of a struggling rural economy, which is just as important now as it ever has been. We will work to keep our momentum flowing and to bring new ideas to the table that will help us reach new goals within the organization, and to continue fighting and representing family farmers.”
Gary is married to his wife, Jeanne; together they have four children and live in Renville, MN.

2nd Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a success

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit!

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm was a big success at the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm took place on the Jary and Celene Holst dairy farm near Kellogg last Friday night.  A warm summer evening saw a great turnout and a wide variety of activities for people of all ages to take part in.

The goal was a simple one:  to introduce the non-farm public to the people behind the food they eat and to show them what goes into producing that food.  Displays of old and new farm equipment lined the farmyard, as well as history displays, a petting zoo, a lunch stand, kids activities, and much more that made for a busy family night on the farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm a big hit with children

People of all ages had a chance to get up close and personal at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm at the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg on a beautiful Friday evening. (photo by Chad Smith)

“This is the second year of doing this event,” said Katie Brown, a member of the group putting on the event.  “Last year, many of us put together the first event last year at Klein’s Cow Palace near Lake City.  This year, the Holst family graciously offered to host the event out here, so it’s a new event for our county but we’re hoping to make it a tradition.”

Brown described the turnout on Friday night as “amazing.”  Events like this just don’t happen without a large number of people who are passionate about agriculture and want to tell its story to people who don’t have much of a connection to the farm.

“We want to make sure we tell the next generation about what farmers do every day and how hard they work,” said Brown, who lives in Millville, “and not just in the dairy industry but every segment of farming, including corn and soybean farmers, and hog producers.  We just want to make sure we share that story with everyone.”

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included agricultural history

Ag history was on display with antique farm equipment at the second annual Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm near Kellogg. The non-farm public had a chance to learn more about ag history and see some of the newest available equipment on display too. (Photo by Chad Smith)

The list of activities was a long one on Friday night.  The displays included the history of agriculture, with actual working equipment from back in the day as well as some of the newest equipment, a chance to watch the dairy farm at work, and plenty for the kids to do as well.

“We have a little bit of history,” Brown said as she took a break from helping at the lunch counter, “not just about the farm but how agriculture has changed.  We have a cream separator, which a lot of people may not know how it works, so it’ll be interesting to watch that.  We have a large sand pile for kids with hidden baseballs to find for a chance to win Twins tickets.  We have old and new tractors, a pedal tractor, calf feeding, and much more.”

She said it’s incredibly important to do more activities like this because of that growing disconnect between urban folks and people on the farm.  She sees that disconnect every day in her job as a Calf and Heifer Specialist with Land O’ Lakes.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm offered a chance to get up close and personal with a dairy farm.

Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm included a chance for the non-farm public to watch cow being milked in a working dairy on the Jary and Celene Holst farm near Kellogg. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I’ve been involved in the American Dairy Association and the dairy industry all my life,” Brown said.  “I’ve become very good friends with a couple from New York, and when I explain what I do when working with dairy farmers on the nutrition side making diets for cows and calves, they said ‘you do what?’  It’s interesting to talk to people that have no experience on a farm and tell them about what farmers do on a daily basis.

“When they ask ‘how do you milk a cow,’ they see you sitting on a stool between cows,” she said.  “We send them pictures showing that there’s a new way of milking cows in parlors which is more safe for humans and more efficient to operate.  It’s interesting to hear their take on it.”

As Brown was watching people walk by, she did see a lot of people from the surrounding community but did notice a large number of people who came from far away to enjoy a night on the farm with their family.  The other noticeable thing about the crowds was an incredible number of oranges shirts that signified volunteers who were helping the event run smoothly.

Lots of volunteer help at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

Family Night on the Farm organizer Katie Brown said there’s no way she could put an event like that together without lots of volunteer help, who were seen wearing bright orange shirts like this one all over the farm. (Photo by Chad Smith)

“I definitely couldn’t do it myself,” she said with a smile, “the Holst family has been great about bringing in family members and neighbors to help out.  The tractor club helps out, and so does the Farm Bureau, the Farmers Union, and people sometimes just come in to help without being asked.  They show up and say ‘give me a shirt and tell me what to do.’  That’s when you know you’re truly in an agricultural community when people step forward to help.  They step forward to help even when sign-up sheets at local banks are filled up.”

Brown and many of the other people running the event have roots that run deep in agriculture.  Katie grew up on a dairy farm and is very proud of what her family does.  Although she and her husband don’t dairy farm, their kids still get the experience of being on a farm regularly when they want to.  Not everyone is so fortunate to have farming in their immediate, or even extended, family.

Kids activities at Wabasha County Family Night on the Farm

A big goal of Family Night on the Farm is to educate the next generation of future adults about how agriculture works and introduce them to the people behind the food they eat. (photo by Chad Smith)

“I do worry about the next generation getting further and further away from understanding what is going on in farming,” Brown said.  “It’s not generally even the grandparents that farmed any more, it’s getting further away in the family.  It’s vital that we share our story with the next generation about where their food comes from, otherwise, they won’t appreciate it as much as they should.”

Last year, she was hoping for approximately 200 people to show up and they had an actual turnout closer to 600 people.  This year, the goal was 900 people.

“It feels good to see the turnout and it’s a beautiful evening,” Brown said.  “It’s exciting to see so many people show up.”

 

Here’s the complete interview with Katie Brown shortly after I pulled her out from behind the lunch counter for a quick chat.  I think you can hear just how busy the place was in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Largest Minnesota Grown Directory ever is out

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture announces the release of the 2015 Minnesota Grown Directory. The newest version is packed with a MDA-logorecord breaking 1,027 member listings leading to local food and products from Minnesota producers. It includes farms, farmers markets, berry patches, wineries, locally raised plants, and more.

The Directory remains organized by regions, so consumers can find what is available in their area quickly and easily. Specific products or farms are listed in either the product or alphabetical index located in the back. The Directory also includes five recipes and regionally inspired restaurant recommendations, featured by Minnesota Cooks. Minnesota Cooks is an education outreach program of Minnesota Farmers Union that celebrates Minnesota’s dedicated family farmers and talented, local food favoring, chefs and restaurant owners.

The largest Minnesota Grown Directory is now out and available (Photo from minnesotagrown.com)

The largest Minnesota Grown Directory is now out and available (Photo from minnesotagrown.com)

The 2015 Minnesota Grown Directory cover showcases Spokeswoman, Carrie Tollefson, her family, and friends, the Agoye Family, enjoying the afternoon at a local farm. “Both families know the advantages of eating fresh local foods and teaching their family where food comes from and how farms can be fun too!” said Minnesota Grown Marketing Specialist Jessica Miles. “It demonstrates how the Directory can be a great tool to create family memories. Plus, it’s an easy resource to find fresh, tasty, local food and products.”

You can order free, printed copies of the Minnesota Grown Directory by calling Explore Minnesota Tourism at 1-888-TOURISM. You can also order your copy online or look up local farms at www.minnesotagrown.com. The online directory makes it easy to find farms via product, city, ZIP code, or the interactive map.

Consumers will feel the pinch of the immigration debate

“The debate over the nation’s immigration policy is one of the more political and complex debates there are right now,” said Kristi Boswell, Director of Congressional Relations at the American Farm Bureau.

While the debate rages on, agriculture is paying close attention to the process of establishing a new policy. If the nation’s farmers can’t find a reliable supply of workers to harvest crops, it would put America’s food supply and overall security at serious risk.

Americans who don’t live on a farm or have any close connection with agriculture may not know that agriculture relies on a steady supply of immigrant workers.

Kristi Boswell

Kristi Boswell is the Director of Congressional Relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington D.C. (Photo from the Farm Bureau website)

“Currently, 70 percent of our immigrant work force is not authorized to work in the United States,” said Boswell. “We also have a flawed guest worker program (H2A) that is expensive and burdensome, and it only supplies 4 percent of our workforce because of that cost and complexity.”

“Our farmers crave stability, and this is only going to come through responsible legislative immigration reform that provides solutions,” said Boswell.

Chandler Goule

Chandler Goule is the Senior Director of Programs with the National Farmers Union in Washington D.C. (Photo from www.biofuellawconference.org)

“I would say agriculture is the silent partner that gets hurt the most in this debate,” said Chandler Goule, the Senior Vice President of Programs at the National Farmers Union. “For those who say we should send all immigrants home, I’d like to see what their grocery bills look like in a few months. Immigrant labor gets the crops out of the fields and into the grocery stores.”

“I would love to say Americans would come and do this work,” said Boswell. “I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t want their children to become a crop worker. The wages are very competitive, peaking around 20 dollar an hour during harvest, but it’s very hard work and seasonal in nature.”

The H2A program presents challenges to farmers because of the way it’s structured.

“A producer tells the government how many employees he needs, then those folks come in and you pay them a set wage for a certain amount of time,” said Jordan Dux, the National Affairs Director for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “It’s too stringent in the way it’s regulated, because if you’re employees finish work early, then you as the farmer still have to pay them for that contracted period.”

Jordan Dux

Jordan Dux is the Director of National Affairs with the Nebraska Farm Bureau (Photo from www.nefb.org)

“There’s not a lot of flexibility there for farmers because of the way it’s regulated,” said Dux. “They’re trying to make it a one-size-fits-all program for all of agriculture, and it doesn’t work that way.”

Agriculture is a hard business to lump under one umbrella. “Agriculture is a unique business in the way that different products are produced,” said Dux. “If you can build in flexibility within any program, that’s going to be beneficial for anything, including tax policy, farm programs, and anything else, it always works better.”

The need for flexibility stems from the fact that immigrant labor touches many different types of agriculture. “The issue definitely touches hand-labor intensive ag the most,” said Kristi Boswell. “It really does hit all of agriculture, including specialty crops, strawberries, citrus. You have apples, lettuce, and really, the entire produce industry relies on immigrant labor.”

“On the livestock side, dairy is very labor intensive,” said Boswell. “You have feedlots and pork facilities that require a lot of labor. Custom harvesters also use a lot of H2A labor as well.”

A lack of immigrant labor is causing some serious problems in agriculture fields across the country.

“We have a Farm Bureau member in Texas that literally had to shred 10 acres of squash because he didn’t have the labor force to get it out of the fields,” said Boswell. “That’s heart wrenching.”

Chandler Goule said, “It’s true. We have a segment of society sitting on government programs in agricultural areas that are more than capable of going out there and working in the fields. They won’t do physical labor.”

“The immigrants from the south will come and do all of the labor,” said Goule. “It’s a conundrum. That’s why I think it’s important for agriculture to remain in the debate.

“Everybody is so worried about the amnesty part of the debate,” said Chandler. “If they don’t do this right, agriculture will be hit first, it will be hit the hardest, and then you’ll see the true impacts of it because it will hit the consumer.”

“You’re used to going to the store and finding everything you need,” said Goule. “When we can’t get it out of the field and it’s rotting, you’re either going to see more imported food, which could come from a country that doesn’t have the same safety standards for food and vegetables, or you won’t find the product, period.”

Check out more Midwest Farm news at www.MidwestProducer.com