WEYERS CAVE — U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Lexington, toured Cave View Farm in Weyers Cave along with others involved in the Virginia agriculture industry, where they spoke about how trade deals affect farmers and what can be done to help.
The Trump administration renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, redubbing it the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
The agreement is at different points of approval by the governments of Mexico, Canada and the U.S., according to Associated Press reports.
“For Mexico and Canada, two of our largest partners, the more we can open those markets up, the better it is for our farmers,” Cline said.
The White House is the lead on the ongoing talks with China to end the trade war between the countries, while it is up to Congress to pass the North American trade agreement, according to Cline.
“We need those markets opened back up,” Cline said. “Our farmers are patient but they need to see action — sooner rather than later.”
The passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement has been held up in Congress by some representatives who have environmental and labor concerns, Cline said.
“It seems as though there is general consensus that this is a good deal for American farmers and American workers,” Cline said. “With some additional protections for workers in Mexico or Canada and some environmental guardrails in place, that the agreement could be universally supported.”
Cline said he expects it to pass Congress in the fall.
And the other agriculture industry representatives at the tour agreed.
“All in all, the USMCA is a great benefit to farmers,” said Ben Rowe, of the Virginia Farm Bureau.
One notable advancement for American farmers is a change to wheat grading, he said.
Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, all wheat exported to Canada is graded at the lowest spot of feed wheat, no matter the quality of the American product, to protect Canadian wheat farmers, Rowe said.
If the USMCA passes, Canada will begin grading wheat the same way as both American and Mexican importers do now, according to Rowe.
Canada also has a very closed dairy system, using quotas to stabilize prices, said Eric Paulson, executive secretary of the Virginia State Dairymen’s Association.
However, they also export their milk, but do not import, Paulson said, driving down international prices for American dairy exporters.
“Canada wanted the best of both worlds,” Paulson said. “They didn’t want to bring anybody else’s product in, but then they wanted to be able to put product out.”
The USMCA would allow American access to another 3.6% of the Canadian dairy market, Paulson said.
“A few percent might be the difference between a farm going under or not,” Rowe said.
Virginia has lost on average one dairy a week for the last four years, he said.
To offset the costs of tariffs, the U.S. Department of Agriculture rolled out the Market Facilitation Program, which will pay out for anyone with a registered USDA crop history no matter if they use the crop on the farm or sell it, though the payment amounts are different for each county, Rowe said.
“At the end of the day, we want trade, not aid, but this is extremely helpful in the short term,” he said.
Cave View Farm owner Gerald Garber agreed that the best course of action would be to solve the issue.
“Uncertainty is never good for anybody,” said Garber, who also serves on the Augusta County Board of Supervisors.
Giving tours around farms to politicians and guests are a positive experience, he said.
“I just think it’s always a good opportunity for people to see it in real life,” Garber said.
And Cline agreed. Cline also toured Mt. Crawford Creamery on Sep. 20 with Sonny Perdue, the U.S. secretary of agriculture.
“It just shows you how diverse the agriculture operations are the in the Valley,” Cline said.