Beef exports from the United States are doing well recently (see article) – but in the current political atmosphere of 2018 there’s a sense of unpredictability with trade overall and things can change quickly. Carol Keiser, GFN Board member and beef producer, manages the feeding of several thousand head of cattle for C-BAR Cattle Company – a company which she also established. Carol is very in-tune with not only the day-to-day issues of beef production, but also the ins and outs of international trade issues. She’s the perfect person to get some perspective from this week.
Carol in addition to her own thoughts included a couple of items from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) that are interesting and helpful in understanding the ‘big picture’…
Global Farmer Network Board member – Carol Keiser, Belleair, Florida, USA
Question: The dictionary defines trade as both a “noun” and a “verb” – both definitions describe the action of selling goods and services. How important is trade – and the ability to access markets – to your farm?
Answer: In my business, there is no trade without accessing the marketplace and we cannot access the marketplace without the action of trade. The world is our marketplace for high quality beef and other specialty meats including the offal and organ meats that we do not cherish here in the US.
Question: When talking about trade, emphasis is often placed on the ability to sell products and services (exports). Trade also covers what we buy. How important is the ability to purchase goods and services for your farm (imports)? For example, what are some items that you purchase that are necessary for your farming operation to be profitable?
Answer: Important, yet it must/should be quality and price competive with us. [Imports include] Feeder cattle, machinery parts, tires. During the Depression my grandmother had eggs and chickens to trade for heating fuel and my grandfather traded beef for machine parts. Today we send our ‘A’ quality beef hides to China for further processing and tanning for top genuine leather upholstery in high-end vehicles.
Question: In your opinion, how important is NAFTA to your farm? To [your cattle feedlots in] Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Florida? To the United States?
Answer: Honestly, it wasn’t how important NAFTA was to my cattle business, it was about accessibility to Mexican & Canadian feeder cattle that I purchased and transported to custom feedlots in Kansas, Nebraska & Texas. There were times when availability and price north and south of the border were competitive with domestic feeder cattle. This situation was subject to the US economic cattle cycle and animal health due to inclement weather north and south of our borders.
*From NCBA: “Since NAFTA was implemented in 1993, U.S. beef exports to Mexico have increased more than 750 percent. Any potential renegotiation of NAFTA must protect the market access and scientific standards that NAFTA has provided for the U.S. beef industry for the past 24 years.” (LINK)
Question: What type of infrastructure is needed to efficiently move products in and out of your farming operation?
Answer: Trucks, good roads, corrals; however the efficiencies in management, labor, water, roughage & animal health within infrastructure are crucial.
Question: In one or two sentences, what message do you want to send trade negotiators regarding the importance and impact on your farm and community?
Answer: If trade is not fair to both sides of the enterprising equation, then trade will not be sustainable. We must allow all components of the food chain to reap benefits from the trade obligation.
*From NCBA News Release – June 29, 2018 (emphasis added):
“For the past few weeks Canada has threatened to retaliate against the United States by slapping a tariff on $170 million worth of U.S. beef products in direct response to the steel and aluminum tariffs. Today, they made good on that threat. These retaliatory tariffs were and still are clearly avoidable, and the unfortunate casualties will be Canadian consumers and America’s cattlemen and cattlewomen. We may not know the extent of the damage these tariffs may have on our producers, but we believe that cooperation is a better path forward than escalation. As Canadians gather to celebrate Canada Day and we prepare to celebrate American Independence, we encourage our government and the Canadian government to remember that we are allies and we rely on each other for future economic prosperity.” (LINK)