Midwestern family farmers are in Washington, D.C., today to discuss the farm crisis and what they see as potential harm from the replacement deal for the North American Free Trade Agreement. 

The squeeze on farmers has tightened in recent years, with net farm incomes down by half since 2013. Al Perish is a retired dairy farmer and state advisory committee member of the Land Stewardship Project. 

He thinks the new NAFTA deal, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, won’t do farmers any favors. Perish says it could undercut calls for a dairy supply-management system similar to Canada’s that helps family farmers and is weakened in the deal. 

He adds the farm crisis is hurting rural towns.

“Their retail businesses are all suffering because of the farm economy, and to think that we’re going to dump some milk on the Canadians and that’s going to fix it, that’s somebody’s nightmare.” says Perish. “Not even a dream.”

Dairy farmers north of the border have a management policy that keeps the supply of milk in balance with demand in the country, which helps small farms and relies on restricting milk importation. 

In the U.S., dairy farmers are hurting. According to the USDA, nearly 3,000 went under in 2018. 

The USMCA is awaiting approval from Congress.

James Kanne is dairy farmer in southwestern Minnesota who is in D.C. this week. He believes U.S. trade deals in the past have benefited multinational corporations at the expense of family farms. 

Suicide has become a growing concern in rural communities, and Kanne says what he fears most is the loss of hope in farm country.

“I really think that we need to turn this around and turn it around quickly,” says Kanne. “Otherwise, we have lost our real backbone in rural America, of our family farmers.”

Family farmers from Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota are in D.C. until Friday discussing what they see as the hazards of the USMCA as it’s currently written. While leaders in Congress have inched closer to signing on to the deal, a final decision could be weeks or months away.

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