Trade Expands Agriculture’s Global Customer Base

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China’s import needs matter to Illinois family farms. So does South America’s soybean harvest, which competes for our export business. Toss in talk on the strength of the dollar’s impact on corn prices, and I should have taken more college courses in economics. Shudder.

The thought of globalizing the perceived charm of any family farm complicates a stereotype often derived from preschool picture books. But trade ranks one of agriculture’s most important chapters. Export markets buy in the neighborhood of 45 percent of the grain grown on Illinois farms – nearly every other row of it, the Illinois Department of Agriculture reports. The state ranks the nation’s second leading exporter of both soybeans and feed grains. If nothing else, take the news from our farm’s resident expert. Grandpa says farming ranks a more complex, globalized business now than in the heart of his farming career, when exports and trade didn’t earn a mention.

Fast forward a couple generations, and productive U.S. farms collectively grow more than the country can consume. Trade appropriately enters the conversation to increase global demand for what Illinois proves great at growing. Specifically, free trade agreements lower tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods. They can raise the bar for labor and environmental standards among trading countries. And evidence shows that current free trade agreements increased exports for agricultural commodities, plus added U.S. jobs and economic growth as a result.

This fall, the kids and I frequented our grain storage facility. “What is exports?” our daughter asked, as she plucked the word from the “Our Farm Exports” sign along the road. The word seemed as foreign to our daughter as the destination of some of our crops. We talked about how fuel, feed and exports dominate our farm’s crop’s uses. Our location within 30 miles of ethanol plants fosters that demand. So does our vicinity to the Illinois River, which serves as one of the arteries pumping American-grown and -made products to the 95 percent of customers who live outside the United States. In this season of reflection, we should count our barge-worthy blessings. Illinois uniquely globalizes our customer base with access to navigable waterways at its western and southern borders and through the interior.

The Farm Bureau for a long time has advocated for trade. Agriculture now experiences a stronger need for deals like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership. A Henry County farmer this fall told FarmWeek that her young son loves seeing the cows every day, but he doesn’t understand the herd’s financial loss to the farm. She traveled to Washington, D.C., and informed politicians that free trade deals could counteract this scenario. Soon enough, her young boy will grow into a young man who understands this picture beyond the story book image. When will our country’s leaders?

Learn more about why trade matters at www.ilfb.org/17960.aspx.

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