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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.