“America doesn’t make anything anymore.”

How often have you heard this in the past year? We’re constantly told that China is eating our lunch, Mexico is making our cars and emerging markets like Vietnam or the Philippines are outsmarting and outproducing American workers.

Most of these voices are driven by thoughts of rusting factories or outsourced IT jobs. But would you believe that a major sector of America’s economy makes at least 20 percent more of its products than we can consume? And would you believe that this sector is the number one industry in Missouri?

The numbers don’t lie – American farmers produce at least 36 percent more crops and 10 percent more meat than we consume, according to the latest USDA data. Our farmers are so productive that they can grow over 50 percent more of some crops than Americans use. For example, our farmers produce at least 70 percent more cotton and tree nuts than the domestic market consumes, and rice and wheat both regularly have 50 percent excess production.

It makes Midwesterners proud to know that we still lead the world in making something, and what we make is the fuel of life. But what to do with all of this bounty? We have a huge supply but lagging demand. Simply put, rural America needs more customers.

When farming leaders say we need free and fair trade, this is why. We produce the highest-quality products in the world in quantities greater than we can use. People in other countries would love to buy our extra production. However, many of those countries charge a tax at the border for our products to come in, making our products too expensive to be competitive. These tariffs, fees and other barriers make it much harder for our farmers to close a deal and sell to those countries’ consumers.

President Trump is currently renegotiating our trade deal with Canada and Mexico – the second and third largest buyers of our agricultural products – and promises to get a better deal in what’s being called “NAFTA 2.0.” He has promised to negotiate new trade agreements with individual countries to open up those markets to American products and treat our workers fairly.

With a fair, level playing field, the American farmer can out-compete anyone else in the world. We prove it on the farm with record-breaking yields year after year. Government barriers should not stand between our producers and the people who want and need our food and fiber. American farmers exported almost $130 billion worth of products last year, according to USDA, but we have the capacity to vastly increase that number and bring more money back to rural America.

Missouri farmers are filled with hope for what 2018 may bring. They will again deliver an abundance from their farms, and we should all encourage our President to make it easier for other countries to buy those products. Free and fair trade is what makes rural Missouri financially strong.

Eric Bohl, of Columbia, is director of public affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.

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