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Some cattle and people share similarly stubborn traits

The author takes a look at taking an opposing stance from time to time, even when it seems wrong.

A black Angus bull.
The author's father felt black Angus were designed to jump fences, contrary to what was expected of them.
Photo by debibishop/iStockphoto.com
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When a high and hard snowbank allowed cattle to walk over the yard fence it was inevitable that all but one very contrarian animal slowly walked back inside when the gate was opened. The same was true with a market hog or two that refused to enter the chute.

In this regard, they are not unlike humans.

My twin brothers are contrarians, going the other way when most others go in the opposite direction. For example, when they were not yet teenagers, they refused to attend an older brother’s wedding despite pleas from my mother. More than 60 years later, the groom still doesn’t know why they hid out in the hay loft instead of attending.

“They are just contrarians who can be stubborn,’’ he said in a recent phone interview.

Dad could be like that, too.

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He received a letter from a local cooperative elevator saying that a bill for far less than $100 was past due. He insisted the bill was paid in cash and that the elevator’s records were wrong. The amount that he allegedly owed wasn’t paid until years afterward when his estate was settled.

He also was convinced — despite no evidence — that black Angus were genetically predisposed to jump four strands of barb wire fencing with ease. Herefords were much easier to keep fenced in, Dad said, which is a reason why heiferettes were bred to the breed.

I could — in my professional career — be a contrarian with a heaping helping of stubbornness mixed in. An editorial stand taken with regards to the North American Free Trade Agreement certainly went against the grain.

NAFTA, a project started by Republican presidents and finalized by President Bill Clinton in 1994, eliminated almost all tariffs between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. At the time it created the largest free trade zone in the world.

The agreement was not without its critics with the most notable among them multi-millionaire Ross Perot, then a presidential candidate under the Reform Party banner. He warned that Americans would soon hear a “giant sucking sound’’ because U.S.-based companies would flee to Mexico where workers’ wages and benefits were far less than within our borders.

However, agricultural economists praised the deal, which received farm organization support with reservations. Wheat growers were particularly concerned that the deal could be a negative for exports to Mexico. Dairy, beef cattle, and hog interests thought it a boon for their exports.

What can’t be disputed is NAFTA kicked off a wide range of trade deals that have reshaped the world’s trade relationships. It’s good that Congress has the authority to make thumbs up or down decisions on any agreement.

At the time, an editorial writer for a weekly farm publication, I wrote a couple editorials against NAFTA, which caused the managing editor of the newspaper much discomfort as a few subscription cancelations were received along with critical letters to the editor.

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Was my stance on NAFTA right or wrong?

Ag economists point out that exports to Mexico have more than tripled in the intervening years and low livestock and commodity prices rebounded following the agreement. Critics argue that NAFTA helped cause the downfall of family farmers and small towns across rural America.

Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to rework NAFTA during his 2016 campaign and followed through with a revised deal shortly after entering the White House.

Most experts say the revised NAFTA didn’t change all that much.

A longtime reader, who backed the original agreement, recently asked if I had regrets about writing the negative editorials so many years ago given that I was clearly wrong about NAFTA.

Other than causing the managing editor to lose sleep, I don’t. One can’t be wishy washy about certain things as a journalist. A contrarian, of course, doesn’t have to be a journalist. Dad, though not one, verbally told the best stories while relaxing in his recliner or sitting on a tractor seat.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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