'We can't be patriots if we're going broke,' says AFBF president

National ag leader reviews preferred path forward on trade, prospects for farm bill.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall (Photo courtesy of AFBF)

By Mike Orso

The leader of the nation’s largest farm organization outlined five steps last Thursday that the group wants to see happen in order to end the trade war and pry open markets for Illinois and other U.S. commodities across the globe.

During a webinar with state Farm Bureaus, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the preferred path forward for the group on trade consists of these steps:

1. Finish up a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Duvall talked about meetings he and some state Farm Bureau presidents, including Illinois Farm Bureau president Richard Guebert, have had with Vice President Mike Pence, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on NAFTA and other trade issues. “I think they’re (Canada) going to come alongside and we’ll have a renewed NAFTA,” said Duvall.

2. Reconsider entry into the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). While Duvall believes this could be a longshot, Perdue renewed hope last week that the Trump administration might consider negotiations to get back into the deal. The president pulled the United States out of TPP shortly after taking office.

3. Conduct bilateral trade negotiations with Japan. Duvall said if entering TPP is not an option, a bilateral trade deal will be needed with Japan. “We need for them (Trump administration) to go on the offense,” said Duvall.

4. Conduct bilateral trade negotiations with the European Union (EU). “Mr. Lighthizer promises me that there would not be an agreement with the EU without their being an agricultural element to it,” said Duvall.

5. Negotiate an end to the tariff war with China. “It comes down to whether or not that farm individually can handle a long-term trade war or whether financially you are on the edge now and can’t handle it,” said Duvall. “My heart goes out to the young farmers that started up five, six years ago when things we’re really good and they haven’t seen anything like this. We haven’t seen anything like this since the 1980s. I farmed through the 80s and that was a dire situation back then and it’s becoming dire here.”

The AFBF president said he has “clarified” with Pence and other members of the Trump administration about the impact of a prolonged trade war in exchange for possible concessions from China.

“It really bothers me when they say, “Well, you’re going to sell more commodities than you’ve ever, ever sold before,” said the Georgia farmer. “Well, yes, if I sell them at a reduced price, I’m no better off. Yes, we’d like to clear them out of inventories, but we still have got to make cost of production to make a living.

“We’re patriots. Probably better patriots than most citizens across this country,” he continued. “But we can’t be patriots if we’re going broke and losing our farms.”

Related: Farmers, others respond to latest tariff plans. Read more here

While Duvall said AFBF continues to stress the need for a new farm bill to members of Congress before the current one expires at the end of the month, he fears it won’t get done until after the November elections.

“We’re facing a perfect storm with mounting debt, growing tensions over trade issues and a shrinking workforce,” said Duvall. “The least they could do for us would be to give us some certainty by passing a farm bill.”

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.