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Attendees at Farmers for Free Trade's final Motorcade for Trade stop pose in front of the RV that traveled through 11 states and 3,500 miles as a promotion of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. Photo taken April 26, 2019, near Broadview, Mont. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

Free trade motorcade ends first journey in Montana

BROADVIEW, Mont. — Rain poured down on the fields of south central Montana just as the Farmers for Free Trade "Motorcade for Trade" pulled into Erickson Farms, the road trip's final stop on its 11-state, 3,500-mile tour.

The dark skies seemed an apt symbol for agriculture, affected nationwide by low prices and trade uncertainty. But the 2-year-old Farmers for Free Trade hopes that by promoting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, it can help move the industry to sunnier days.

"It really matters for farm families," said Angela Marshall Hofmann, co-executive director of the group.

And just as the rain stopped and the sun came out as the event came to an end, Farmers for Free Trade hopes to help get USMCA passed and brighten the outlook for ag exports.

Farmers for Free Trade is a nonprofit formed to explain the benefits of free trade and to mobilize farmers and ranchers to take action to support trade agreements that expand export opportunities. The organization began its Motorcade for Trade on April 12 in Pennsylvania. It made stops in New York, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota before its final stop in Broadview.

Across the tour, Marshall Hofmann said the Motorcade for Trade heard from farmers and ranchers affected by trade disputes, but also from bankers, implement dealers, manufacturers, school teachers and more, all struck through a trickle-down of problems afflicting rural America.

Michelle Erickson-Jones, whose farm hosted the Broadview event, called trade "critically important for Montana agriculture." She pointed out that the beer provided at the event came from barley grown in Montana and malted in Great Falls, Mont., before being sent to Mexico for brewing and returned to Montana for sale.

"It's an important part of our agricultural industry," she said of the trade relationships with the nation's neighbors.

Former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus talks to Farmers for Free Trade board member Karen Heyneman.Karen Heyneman, one of three board members for Farmers for Free Trade and a rancher in Whitetail, Mont., said people in agriculture rely on their neighbors, making that relationship with neighboring countries so important.

"We count on them; they count on us," she said. "Knowing you can count on your neighbors means a lot in this industry."

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., sent Erickson-Jones a note of support for the event, which also was attended by several producers and representatives of Montana farm groups. Max Baucus, a former U.S. senator from Montana and an ambassador to China under the Obama administration, also was on hand.

Baucus has served as co-chair of Farmers for Free Trade, along with former Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind. Baucus said the Farmers for Free Trade's nonpartisan support is important.

"Let's remind ourselves that a bushel of barley or a bushel of wheat, it's not a Republican bushel or a Democratic bushel. It's a bushel. And the same thing with a heifer or a steer," he said.

Lugar died three days after the Montana event, and in a statement Baucus praised his colleague's ability to work across the aisle, particularly on Farmers for Free Trade.

"Working with Dick over the last few years on Farmers for Free Trade has been a gift that's only reinforced his dedication to the people of Indiana and rural America. At a time when trade policies that keep many farmers afloat have come under fire, Dick stood up with me to ensure their voices are being heard. It was a typically brave stance from a man who has always been guided less by politics than by doing what was right for his constituents," the statement said.

Baucus called USMCA an improvement on the North American Free Trade Agreement and said it's vital for ag exports.

"We need to get that passed," he said.

The Motorcade for Trade, he explained, was an opportunity to pass along information on the importance of ag exports. While people in North Dakota and Montana, as well as the Congressional delegations from those and other ag states, understand the importance of Canadian and Mexican markets to U.S. agriculture, those in coastal states often think of trade only in terms of manufacturing.

"I'm really very proud to be a small part of all this," Baucus said.

Brian Kuehl, co-executive director of Farmers for Free Trade, announced at the Montana event that while the Motorcade for Trade's first journey was complete, the mission isn't over. Instead, the group now is planning another tour, likely to start in Texas.

"The RV's going to head south," he said.

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