LANSING, March 29, 2001 - Many of the perceived threats to Michigan's agricultural
livelihood can be made into opportunities, according to Michigan Farm Bureau
(MFB) President Wayne Wood, who recently returned from a study tour of Mexico
with 26 Farm Bureau members, legislators and agricultural leaders.
The nine-day trip revealed that Mexico is a country mired in
poverty in some areas and enjoying prosperity in others.
"Imagine watching a farmer break a new tract of ground
with a seven-bottom plow, and a mile down the road, a farmer is plowing with a
donkey," Wood said. "Some farmers were cutting hay with a mower, and
others were using a scythe and piling it up to dry."
Despite that huge disparity between the "haves"
and the "have nots," Mexico is concerned about many of the same
things Michigan farmers worry about.
"They're concerned about NAFTA the same as we
are," he said. "They feel that maybe U.S. goods are going there more
freely than their goods are coming here. A strong concern of theirs is that
their good workers come here, and they're left with the poorer workers. I saw
people there working for $6 to $10 a day for a nine-hour day. Their labor
situation will require a higher level of mechanization in the near
Farmers also are leaving the country.
"A few years ago the government broke up their large
farms and gave small parcels, about five hectares (2.47 acres per hectare), to
farmers," said Wood. "But there are few loan opportunities, so they
have to work very hard just to be sure they can live off it. They're very much
subsistence farmers. But Bolivia is luring their farmers away because they're
giving them land. So the best farmers are leaving."
Many small farmers are joining a union in Mexico that runs
more like a cooperative, but times still are tough.
"The president of the union said that for a small farm
to succeed, it needs four sons, three of whom work in the States and send money
home," Wood recalled.
But even with Mexico's economic and social challenges, there
are plenty of opportunities for Michigan farmers.
"I think there's a real opportunity for Michigan
apples," said Wood. "Washington state seems to have a hold on that
market now because it has been able to meet Mexico's requirements on
phytosanitary procedures. But we have to explore that market."
Wood added he believes there is "a great opportunity to
set up a system with our universities to continue Mexican workers' agricultural
education while they work in the United States.
"As the majority of Mexican consumers see an improvement
in their discretionary income, an opportunity for non-subsistence food products
will emerge," he said. "That'd be beneficial since value-added,
upscale food products in Mexican supermarkets tend to originate in the
While Michigan deals with its bovine tuberculosis problem,
60 percent of Mexico's dairy herd is TB positive, according to Wood, a
fourth-generation Sanilac County dairy farmer.
"TB is rampant, but they still seem to get good
production," he said. "They get some government assistance with
testing, but it appeared to me that there was no indemnity program."
The MFB leader said he came back from the trip with three
areas of trade in mind that could become lucrative opportunities for Michigan
"Michigan's apple industry has been working on ways to
break down barriers to imports into Mexico, and we need to continue those
efforts," he said.
Wood said there also are tremendous opportunities for
Michigan's Christmas tree growers. "They're begging for our Christmas
Thirdly, value-added dairy products represent a good
"New Zealand is eating our lunch as far as putting
dairy products in there," he said. "Every pad of butter has New
Zealand printed on it. I think our products like ice cream represent a real
marketing opportunity for us."
Overall, Wood said he was impressed with the technological
advances Mexico has made since he visited five years ago. Still, Mexico is an
extremely poor country where research and technological advancements seem to
have reached a level limited by lack of capital and educational resources, he
"As a result of this, Mexico is very dependent on their
neighbor to the north for technological improvements necessary to their
continuing evolution as a trading partner," he said.
"People there are either very wealthy or very poor.
There doesn't seem to be a middle class. Most people are working hard just to
put the next meal on the table. The trip was enlightening and educational, but
it sure makes me appreciate the opportunities and conveniences we have back
MFB co-sponsored the Agricultural Trade Issues and Policy
Study Tour to Mexico, March 5-14.