Noting the mounting frustration of Michigan farmers to see progress on resolving numerous trade disputes while dealing with significant weather-related challenges in 2019, Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski said it’s time for Washington to understand farmers want trade, not aid.
In his Dec. 3 address to members attending the organization’s 100th annual meeting in Grand Rapids, Bednarski, a Tuscola County cash-crop farmer, said Congressional approval of the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is long overdue.
Despite repeated assurances the USMCA agreement will eventually pass, Bednarski said time and patience are both running short over the refusal by the Speaker of the House to schedule the trade package for a floor vote.
“When we can’t approve a trade deal with our two closest neighbors — it sends a message to the global market-place,” Bednarski said. “It says we’re more concerned with politics than being serious contenders in agricultural trade.”
Bednarski said political stonewalling on the USMCA vote, along with ongoing trade disputes with China and the European Union, is affecting farm profitability.
“We all understand there are many long-standing trade issues that need to be addressed,” Bednarski said regarding China. “Unfortunately, U.S. agriculture has been targeted in the ongoing trade and tariff dispute.”
On a positive trade note, Bednarski said the recently announced trade deal with Japan, the third-largest ag export market, is great news. “As a result, Michigan farmers will have the opportunity to compete on a level playing field, while gaining access to 127 million Japanese consumers,” he said.
Turning to weather-related challenges and record-levels of prevented planting of many major Michigan crops, Bednarski credited multiple state and federal agencies, including USDA and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration for their quick responses.
“We heard your concerns with prevent plant deadlines and questions of what could be planted on those acres for cover, as well as a lack of forage for livestock producers,” Bednarski said.
“We worked with commodity executives, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, Michigan State University and agribusiness to develop revised emergency prevent plant guidelines, that included emergency forage provisions from RMA for crop insurance policyholders,” Bednarski added.
Bednarski noted the assistance of state legislators and Whitmer to quickly move and approve legislation providing $15 million in funding for the pre-existing Agriculture Loan Origination Program, designed to allow financial institutions to make low-interest loans to farmers, processors and farm-related retailers.
While honoring the Michigan Farm Bureau’s 100th anniversary, Bednarski encouraged members to remain focused on future challenges facing Michigan agriculture, including ongoing challenges to the state’s Right-to-Farm Law, as well as finding a feasible solution to road-funding — one of the first issues the organization grappled.
“Ironically, the major issue at that time was how to pay for roads. Sound familiar?” Bednarski asked. “At that time, road funding depended on property taxes. In fact, Michigan Farm Bureau’s first major legislative victory was an intense two-year battle to finally secure a 2-cent gas tax to fund roads.”