The USDA quietly released a statistic in March that should alarm us all. More than seven dairy farms folded every day in 2018, and it’s easy to see why. America’s farmers and ranchers are in their 6th straight year of economic recession, with no end in sight.
Farm bankruptcies are on the rise and lenders are tightening the availability of credit, which is harming many of those who feed, clothe, and fuel us, because farmers and ranchers are increasingly unable to demonstrate that they can repay their loans.
The situation warrants the immediate attention of policymakers. Markets need to rally even as U.S. production remains strong, helping farmers and ranchers repay mounting debt and start rebuilding the equity they have hemorrhaged over 6 years.
Washington certainly cannot dictate market forces to bring about this kind of a recovery — but there are actions Washington can and should take that could help ignite just such a recovery. Trade is first and foremost on the minds of U.S. farmers and ranchers. Trade is absolutely essential to American agriculture because farmers and ranchers here at home rely heavily on customers abroad.
In 2017 alone, the U.S. exported north of $140 billion in agricultural goods around the globe. For example, America exports between 60 and 80 percent of the almonds, pistachios, and walnuts we produce. And between 46 and 76 percent of the cotton, sorghum, rice, wheat, and soybeans we produce in the U.S. is destined for export. Meanwhile, meat, poultry, and dairy exports have also been on the rise in recent years, with 21 percent of pork produced to be sold abroad.
In short, U.S. exports feed a hungry world. And here at home,
a vibrantagriculture means a more vibrant Main Street and healthier, stronger rural communities.
So, as the Administration and Congress consider what they can work on together that could move markets and improve lives in the United States, expanding trade opportunities is a logical place to begin. The first two opportunities are through the speedy ratification by Congress of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and a successful resolution of the U.S.-China trade negotiations.
In and of themselves, these two achievements would lock in and expand U.S. opportunity in three of our biggest markets. But, even beyond these direct benefits are other dividends, such as building momentum for other agreements like Japan that could further grow U.S. exports.
Leveling the playing field is vital to the competitiveness of America’s farmers and ranchers and is a goal that policymakers of both political stripes should be able to support. And it all begins with a couple of steps that can be taken relatively quickly.
Vote on USMCA and ratify it. Finalize U.S.-China trade negotiations. And bring an end to one of the worst rural recessions in recent memory.