Minnesota agriculture needs Washington's help

It's no secret that these are extremely tough times for Minnesota's farmers.

We can easily go down the list of reasons why: declining prices, a hard winter followed by a wet, cold spring, a tit-for-tat tariff war, a stalled NAFTA 2.0 trade deal and inaction by Congress. Add it all up, and farm income in Minnesota dropped an estimated 8% last year — the fifth consecutive year of decline for farmers.

The dairy industry has been hit particularly hard. The state Department of Agriculture's data indicates Minnesota has been losing one dairy farm a day since November. After all, who wants to keep working for declining revenue when winter snow collapses the roof of a barn you can't afford to fix? That's some of the background of the angst expressed during a Rural Voices Discussion sponsored by the Minnesota Farmers Union on April 26 in Cannon Falls. That same week, U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, R-Minn., got an earful from farmers during a session in New Ulm.

The message to Hagedorn: Get NAFTA 2.0 passed, get the tariffs that have closed off foreign markets rescinded, and press for real reforms rather than one-time handouts. That's going to be a heavy lift for a freshman backbencher whose party does not control the House. But Hagedorn, a strong backer of President Donald Trump, needed to be confronted with the reality of what happens to farmers when the White House and Congress dither on ag policy.

Regarding the United States-­Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) — an updated NAFTA pact that Trump made a big deal of negotiating: It's not anywhere near the finish line. The presidents of the three nations may have signed it, but the voter-elected governing bodies of each nation must approve it.

During a meeting last week with the editorial board of the Rochester Post Bulletin, Canadian Consul General Ariel Delouya said prospects for getting the deal approved by Canada's parliament this year are getting slimmer by the day. For starters, Canadians are still upset that Trump imposed tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum based on national security. "It's the elephant in the room," Delouya said.

Canada's defense and security forces are closely allied with the U.S., he said, and Canadians found it insulting to be accused of being a security threat. Until those tariffs are removed, Delouya said, parliament will be unlikely to approve USMCA. On top of that, there's a general election coming up this fall in Canada. Oh, and by the way, the Trump administration has not yet presented NAFTA 2.0 to Congress for approval.