Food and Fiber Speak Many Languages

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Photo by Kevin Young

We live deep in Illinois farm country, just over 20 miles from the nearest populous area with a stoplight. Yet, our email inboxes tell of Brazilian ethanol demand. Our smartphones tone three times daily with commodity market updates influenced by international trade. And the conversation in our family’s farm office yesterday mentioned Argentina’s soybean harvest, tariffs on imported goods and the weakening of the U.S. dollar.

When Grandpa farmed full time, Japan’s food import needs proved as distant a thought as the country itself. Today, the world encompasses our farm’s marketplace. Domestic and international customers use the soybeans we grow in the Cox Moody field at the top of the hill. Customers here and abroad buy ethanol made from the corn in our Back Bottom, a field at the end of a narrow, dead-end dirt road.

In fact, international markets buy 44 percent of the grain grown on Illinois farms – pretty close to every other row of it, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Our state ranks third nationally in the export of agricultural commodities. We may farm in the center of a continent, but Illinois has a tremendous asset in its waterway system. The Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers serve as arteries pumping commodities that Illinois proves great at growing into international markets.

Trade matters to the profitability and livelihood of Illinois farm families. About 95 percent of potential customers for American goods live outside the United States. Illinois farmers want lawmakers to fund updates to our country’s aging waterway system, in serious need of modernization so we can keep sending soybeans to China, our nation’s No. 1 importer of that protein source.

We oppose dismantling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because U.S. agriculture and food exports to Canada and Mexico more than quadrupled since the agreement started. Mexico today ranks as the No. 1 importer of U.S. corn. Combined with Canada, the two countries also account for 40 percent of U.S. pork and 30 percent of U.S. beef export volumes.

In our farming operation, only one cellular service provider successfully allows us to make and receive phone calls from our fields on Snake Den Road, a location as remote and winding as its name sounds. Regardless of how distant our farms appear from the world, global demand, trade agreements and foreign market approvals for new crops impact the livelihood of our family and fellow Illinois farm families.

Grandpa says exports and trade didn’t earn a mention when he shelled corn and heaved hay back in the day. Today, he’s as aware as the rest of us that food and fiber speak many languages.

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