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Est. April 5, 2002
April 27, 2017 - Issue 696

Trump, Schumer Ignorant
about the
Most Basic Industry: Farming


"What should be clear to anyone, especially
Schumer and Trump, that it is not so much
what Canada has done to the farmers of
Wisconsin and New York State.  It’s what
the government, at the urging and demand
of global corporations and the lobbyists of giant
agribusinesses, has done to America’s small farms."

In a statement last week, Donald Trump displayed a remarkable ignorance of one of the most basic enterprises in American life, farming, when he apparently was confused between farmers and farm workers.

The headline on the Associated Press story was, “Canadian PM responds to Trump’s criticism of dairy industry.” In the dust-up, Trump called Canada a “disgrace,” because they did not want to accept ultra-filtered dairy products from the U.S. “…(W)hat they've done to our dairy farm workers is a disgrace.”

That was the first indication that the president knows little about agriculture in America and can’t tell the difference between farmers and farm workers. They are not the same and the latter are most often those whom Trump would remove from the country, because they often are Mexicans, Salvadorans, or others from Central America or the Caribbean Islands.

From his statement, you might believe that he is concerned about the welfare of farm workers, but that is the farthest thing from his mind. At the same time, last week, he also said, according to the AP, that he would make “some very big changes” to the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico or “we are going to get rid of NAFTA for once and for all.” He has made many threats over the past few years, during the presidential campaign and in his first three months in office.

Both Canada and Mexico would have some problems, if Trump were to carry out his threats, but he doesn’t seem to realize that these are two of the most important U.S. trading partners. The U.S. Department of Agriculture shows the two neighbors of the U.S. to be its biggest export markets, with Mexico being number one and Canada, number two.

A little history of NAFTA: In the first year of the agreement, Canada lost 500,000 jobs to the lower-wage country directly to its south. If the U.S. had lost the same percentage of jobs as the Canadians, it would have lost five million jobs in the first year. The winners, if there were any, in the adoption of NAFTA among the three countries were large corporations, especially agribusinesses. However, workers were left out of the calculations and there was considerable job displacement and loss in the U.S. But, that is the most common result of the so-called free trade agreements. Trump, during the campaign, spoke to working men and women, as if he understood what they were suffering, how their families were suffering, and how their communities were deprived of a local economy when the jobs were shipped off.

He talked to them, convinced them that he was on their side, but he did not know anything about the intricacies of trade agreements, the degrading of the working class, and the same treatment of much of the middle class. And, they believed him. Amazingly, it’s what got him elected. Since then, he has been on a long learning curve and he will not be able to do anything for workers and their communities. Much of what he says is blather, dissembling, or outright lies.

Now, he wants to appear that he is going to help the farmers and that promises to turn out to be as successful as his claim to have saved Carrier Corporation jobs in Indiana. He didn’t even come close to saving jobs in the numbers he claimed to save and it went rather quickly out of the news.

The grown-up in this case is Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said last week that he would try to explain the situation to Trump with a fact-based approach. According to the AP, New York U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer chimed in last Wednesday, saying, “I welcome President Trump’s statement yesterday taking issue with Canada’s damaging new dairy pricing policies that are unfair trade barriers harmful to American farmers. I look forward to working with the Administration to pressure and persuade the Canadians to reverse this unwise policy, which is a violation of our agreements.”

There seem to be two high officials in the U.S. government who do not have a clear understanding of arguably the most important sector of the economy, agriculture. Because the same lack of understanding is a problem of long standing in the U.S., family farm agriculture has dwindled to a small percentage of the agriculture sector and has been replaced by industrial farming, if it can be called farming. In the dairy sector, instead of small farms dotting the countryside, there are giant operations that function more like factories. In fact, they are factories. Instead of farmers, with the help of close family members, milking 50-100 cows, there are operations that milk 1,000-5,000 cows and they are the farthest thing from the bucolic scenes pictured on your average milk carton.

It is those milk factories that receive the subsidies from the government. Small farms do not receive the same subsidies, nor are they likely to receive much of that kind of aid. The factory farms are subsidized by a fiercely controlled system of subsidies, beginning in the heartland where the subsidies of corn, soybeans, and wheat provide the factory farms with cheaper grain and feed than they otherwise would be able to buy. The banks and other financial enterprises are more likely to provide loans to the same giant operations, rather than family-run farms.

What should be clear to anyone, especially Schumer and Trump, that it is not so much what Canada has done to the farmers of Wisconsin and New York State. It’s what the government, at the urging and demand of global corporations and the lobbyists of giant agribusinesses, has done to America’s small farms. They have disappeared because of government policy and the policy of farming organizations, like the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which purports to represent small farms and their farmers. AFBF policy for many years has been clear and simple: Get big or get out. Subsidies and tax breaks flow to the factory farms, not to small farms and Farm Bureau has not been aggressive in support of the small farms and their way of life, especially their support of rural communities.

Any day trip through what has been farm country in, say, New York or Wisconsin, will be a living exhibit of this government-corporate-hedge fund-investor policy. Where there used to be pastures of cows and hay fields, there are now cow-less farms and, if the former dairy farmer is lucky, the farm now produces only hay to sell to the milk factories.

That hay money might barely pay the taxes on the farm and, to make a living and stay on the farm, the farmer must shuffle off to find a minimum-wage job or two. Such is the condition of small farming that Trump and Schumer are trying to blame on Canada. If they could understand the situation of the dairy industry, they would not embarrass themselves by blaming Canada for the dire straits of small U.S. farmers. One of the issues the two politicians cite is that Canada is not allowing ultra-filtered milk imports from the U.S. That is milk that is used for making cheese and other dairy products.

Canadian Ambassador David MacNaughton recently wrote letters to the governors of New York and Wisconsin, saying that his nation does not accept their contention that it is Canadian dairy policies that are the cause of the problems of their states’ dairy farmers. According to an AP report in late April, MacNaughton said that a U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own report “clearly indicates” that the problem is U.S. and global overproduction. The Canadian system is one of supply management, which means that dairy farmers there get a quota of production and are penalized if they go over that quota. In this way, the farmers and their government tend to have a stabilized supply of milk and a stabilized income for their farmers. There is no such system in the U.S. and there is no apparent plan to have one. So, American farmers are subject to the vagaries of a market that is set up to benefit giant food corporations, while the rest are left behind. The announcement of an import tax on ultra-pasteurized by Canada is what has Trump and Schumer screaming “disgrace.” The AP reported that about 70 dairy operations in the U.S. are affected by the new tax.

Apparently, consumers and dairy farmers in Canada have a concern about ultra-filtered milk coming into their country and would rather produce milk and other dairy products for their own use. Whatever the rationale, the action by the Canadian government has resulted in a lowering of some dairy products, thus making U.S. imports a little more expensive. Even with the U.S. subsidies, they are not able to compete as well under the new rules. With the switch from small farms to industrial operations, the nation’s agriculture has become a producer of commodities, not food. The small (mostly) organic farms that are proliferating in the U.S. give eaters of food a glimmer of hope, but they still produce a small percentage of the food consumed annually.

The two men had better study NAFTA a little more closely before they go to the negotiating table with Canadians and they ought to learn the difference between farmers and farm workers, because most people know that they are not expressing concern for the welfare of farm workers. That’s especially true of Trump, who would not know a farm worker from a lawn tractor, as he socializes only with 10 percent of the population who are in his income bracket, unless, of course, they are in the entertainment business, as he has been. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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