Farmer says: 'We need trade, not aid'

Gwen Chamberlain
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue talks with Larry Lewis, president of Yates County Farm Bureau.

United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue joined U.S. Rep. Tom Reed at Ravines Wine Cellars in Geneva May 29, where the two met with representatives from various agriculture businesses, including Farm Bureau officials, dairy, produce, crop farmers and wine producers.

Much of the round table discussion was centered on trade and labor issues, with dairy farmers giving the most push back against what they see as diminishing support from federal and state officials for their interests.

“The only way we have for dealing with surplus is through trade,” said Dick Kimball, Chautauqua County Farm Bureau President and NY Farm Bureau Board member.

Perdue and Reed countered with optimism that the proposed trade deal with Mexico and Canada — USMCA — will open the door to expanding markets for agricultural products. They both said an agreement is near, and its approval will send a message to China that the United States can negotiate trade deals.

In fact, Reed was positive there were enough votes to pass the bill if the vote was taken that afternoon, and there were just some procedural steps that needed to take place. Reed said passing the agreement with Mexico and Canada would send the message to China that the United States is serious about trade.

“We have no excuse to not put it on the floor and pass it.  If we don’t pass it, we have no hope with Japan, European Union, and China,” he said.

Reed added, “I applaud the president for disrupting trade agenda but it is time to move forward.”

But the next day, while Vice President Mike Pence was meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to promote the new deal, President Donald Trump announced his desire to use new tariffs to increase pressure on Mexico to reduce the flow of Central Americans to the U.S. border.

USMCA was signed by Trump, Trudeau and then-Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in November, and according to Reed, the Mexican legislative body has taken action toward the agreement.

Responding on June 4 to a request for reaction to Trump’s plan to impose a 5 percent tariff on Mexican goods June 10, Perdue said, “Secretary Victor Villalobos and I had a good discussion about the positive agriculture trade relationship our two countries share. We agreed on the importance that the USMCA has on the economies of our countries. We also agreed that there is more work to be done to improve the security of our border. Mexico needs to be doing everything they can to be good neighbors and help with our humanitarian crisis on the southern border. Mexico is one of our top three trading partners, and it is critical to both of our agriculture sectors that the U.S. Congress and the Mexican and  Canadian Governments ratify this deal as quickly as possible.”

Perdue and Villalobos met June 3.

Dairy farmers’ concerns seemed to dominate the discussion, but Fox Run Vineyards owner Scott Osborn got Perdue’s attention with a problem Perdue said he had not heard of — small businesses being sued over not having websites accessible to people with disabilities. Osborn said there are no provisions for businesses to make the websites accessible, so the businesses pay damages and then have to invest in technology to make them accessible. He said making his winery’s website accessible has cost $20,000.

Yates County Farm Bureau President Larry Lewis, an organic crop farmer told Perdue, “If there’s one thing I want you to take back to Washington it’s that agriculture is the largest industry in New York state.”

One of the dairy farmers, Dustin Bliss said, “I strongly believe a vibrant, profitable agricultural industry with more farms — not less — is absolutley imperative to national security.  I don’t know how long this country would survive on steel and aluminum... Weather throws us enough challenges, the government doesn’t need to throw us any more.”

Before the roundtable conversation, Perdue and Reed took a tour of the Ravines facility.

“With agriculture being a critical piece of our local economy, it was an honor to welcome Secretary Perdue to the Finger Lakes,” said Reed. “Today’s conversation brought to light many of the issues facing the farmers we care about along with the need for Nancy Pelosi to bring the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada to a floor for a vote. Together with Secretary Perdue, we will continue to be a loud voice in Washington for hardworking farmers who contribute so much to our economy.”

None of the round table participants voiced concerns about the need for expanded broadband service in rural areas, but Perdue mentioned the financial support USDA is prepared to give rural areas in expanding networks as he departed.

“The event with Secretary Perdue and Congressman Reed, was an awesome opportunity to discuss the current state of the dairy industry. Secretary Perdue was very receptive to what we all had to say and really has an understanding of what the dairy industry needs. Congressman Reed, as usual was in sync with the opinions and desires of the agricultural community. He’s always been willing to listen and do his best to help the farmers in district 23. I am thankful for and appreciate the invitation,” said Chemung County Dairy Farmer, Gina Blakemore.

“This was a great forum today with Secretary Perdue and it gives us a chance to get the Congressman’s views but to also actually see what is going on at the USDA. We were heard and that is what counts,” said Kimball.

“We discussed some very important issues and hopefully some good comes out of it. Labor and trade are both paramount if we are going to have a viable and successful agriculture industry going forward in this area, New York state and beyond.” said John Sorbello, New York State Farm Bureau District 3 Director.