As the holiday season is upon us, more of us find ourselves spending time with family and in the midst of opportunities to receive more life lessons from our parents.
However, most of us farming with family know that these lessons aren’t reserved just for the holiday season. I know for myself, that not many weeks pass without strategic discussions based around what experiences Dad faced over his years of farming.
But lately, one lesson in particular has been on the forefront of my mind: the tale of President Jimmy Carter and his grain embargo that cut farmers and the Midwest off at the knees.
As many readers will recall, in January 1980, then-President Jimmy Carter enforced a grain embargo against the Soviet Union as a political weapon to try and force their removal of troops from Afghanistan. The embargo had little impact on the Soviets, but drastically slashed grain prices for farmers. At the time, most of U.S.S.R. grain supplies came from the U.S.
This blow to American agriculture set the tone for the remainder of a decade-long struggle, known in our house as the terrible ’80s, with suppressed market prices, high interest rates, and drastically deflated revenue.
This lesson has been festering in my frontal lobe for the past few months as anti-trade rhetoric has been swirling around Washington, D.C. Threats to exit out of valuable trade agreements, like NAFTA, are leaving myself and most other farmers worried that history could be repeating itself and setting up a new generation with their own version of the terrible ’80s.
Why is NAFTA and trade important to farmers and rural America?
“In 2016, $135.5 billion worth of American agricultural products were exported around the world. The United States sells more food and fiber to world markets than we import, creating a positive agricultural trade balance.” (FB.org)
Last year Mexico was our No. 1 corn buyer and No. 1 buyer of DDGs (dried distillers grains), and Canada was our No. 2 largest buyer of ethanol. (U.S. Grains Council)
We cannot deny the positive impact of trade on the overall, and especially rural, economy in this country. More than 20 percent of all farmers are beginning farmers (in business less than 10 years). (fb.org) Can we really risk putting over one-fifth of our nation’s farmers in financial stress by not supporting NAFTA and other agreements like it?
My wish this holiday season, is that you will take a lesson from Dad, my dad, and support our farmers and rural communities by showing support for these vital trade agreements, so we don’t have to live through our own version of the terrible ’80s.
Note to readers: Evan Hultine is president of the Bureau County Farm Bureau.