Farmers for Free Trade at Hoffman Dairy

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Minnesota agriculture industry leaders discuss issues at the Farmers for Free Trade event at Hoffman Dairy Thursday.

NEW ULM — Hoffman Dairy owner Steve Hoffman choked up when talking about the future of his dairy operation that hosted a Farmers for Free Trade motorcade roundtable whistle stop tour Thursday.

“It’s been too long a spell. We’ve been beaten down too many times,” Hoffman said. “My son and I talk about getting out of the business.”

Hoffman said two and one-half years ago, he did a Minnesota Public Radio interview when the dairy business was in a low-price cycle.

“I said we’ll make it through. But two and one-half years later, I can’t say that with confidence,” Hoffman said.

Farmers for Free Trade, a bi-partisan coalition supported by American agriculture commodity groups, held a farm roundtable at Hoffman Dairy while on an 11 state, 3,500-mile tour highlighting the importance of farm trade with Canada and Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Congress will consider the USMCA plan to upgrade the North American Free Trade Agreement in the coming months.

“This is important to farmers and our rural way of life. Thanks for bringing this to people’s attention. Agriculture is highly dependent on foreign markets,” First District Congressman Jim Hagedorn said to group.

“Our patents are being stolen, we have low commodity prices and high input costs,” Hagedorn said. “We need to import with China and Japan. It looks like the final negotiations are being done.”

Hoffman said four Minnesota dairy farms went out of business each week. For each dairy farm that closed down, Hoffman said 15 to 30 other businesses economically suffer.

“This is our fifth consecutive down year for agriculture. It’s comparable to the 80s farm crisis. We’re really hurting out here. The federal tariffs imposed last year cost farmers $1 billion,” Hoffman said.

Albany dairy farmer and Association of Milk Processors, Inc., Chairman of the Board Steve Schlangen said many dairy farmers are gone and, without trade agreements, many more will go out of business.

“It’s too late for many, but we’ve got to work with who is still here,” Schlangen said.

Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President Kevin Paap said about half of all U.S. agriculture products go to Canada and Mexico.

“Customers we lose will be hard to bring back. The European Union made a deal with Mexico,” Schlangen said.

“We really need the agreements done and to see the end of the runway because it’s getting so tight out here,” Paap said.

National and Minnesota Corn Growers board member Harold Wolle of St. James said “when trade works, the world wins.”

“A banker told me without better farm prices, 30 percent of his clients won’t get farm loans next year,” Wolle said.

Hagedorn said the U.S. House and Senate have 90 days to act on the trade bills expected to be sent to them soon. He said 30 to 40 democratic votes will be needed for the bills to pass Congress.

Steve Hoffman’s wife Kerry said she works off the farm and is often asked why she supported President Trump.

“We needed things to change. We hope he does his part. It’s been tough,” Hoffman said.

Cenex Harvest States board member Perry Meyer said a lot of young farmers don’t know how much trouble they are in.

“If the market doesn’t bounce back for this year’s crop, there will be a world of hurt,” Meyer said.

“If we want Mexico and Canada to pass trade agreements, we need the tariffs (taxes at the border) off,” Paap said. “We had a great NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) that quadrupled our exports.”

Hagedorn urged free trade supporters to text USMCA to 52886 and tell Congress to support trade with Canada and Mexico.

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