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'Our' issue goes mainstream

Just a few months ago, most Americans not involved in production agriculture -- which means most Americans in general -- knew very little and seemed to care even less about U.S. ag exports. That billions of dollars of U.S. food was sold to consum...

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Just a few months ago, most Americans not involved in production agriculture -- which means most Americans in general -- knew very little and seemed to care even less about U.S. ag exports. That billions of dollars of U.S. food was sold to consumers around the world every year, that farm-state and farm-town economies were strengthened, that foreign consumers enjoyed greater access to safe, affordable and nutritious food -- none of that had really registered with most Americans. For agriculturalists, ag exports were "our" issue.

But things have changed. President Donald Trump's trade policies, and the subsequent $12 billion aid package for farmers hurt by it, has injected U.S. ag exports into the limelight. Americans nationwide are talking about ag and ag exports.

Most of the attention seems focused on soybeans, and U.S. soybean farmers surely have a huge stake in what happens. But many other crops potentially are affected, too, including ones grown in the Upper Midwest. Nearly half of U.S. wheat is exported, for instance. 

I don't want to get too political. But I think it's fair to say this: Some of the public attention is purely partisan. Many people who support Donald Trump support his trade policies, almost automatically. Many people who oppose Donald Trump oppose his trade policies, almost automatically. To these partisans, the debate over trade policies is simply part of their ongoing pro- and anti-Trump battle, or so it seems to me.

Some of the new public attention on ag exports is not partisan, however. Conscientious journalists and members of the general public are digging into the issue, honestly and responsibly, to get a realistic understanding of what's at stake. 

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An expert suggestion for agriculturalists: I recently heard a former U.S. trade negotiator make the point that while U.S. ag has been a big winner in global trade, some sectors of the U.S. economy have been hurt. He said those of us in ag should remember that that some Americans are worse off. That's a valuable reminder, I think. (Though keeping in mind that Americans overall are better off.) 

My unsolicited, decidedly unexpert suggestion to agriculturalists: Keep emphasizing the value of U.S. ag exports -- to farmers and ranchers, to local and state economies, to the U.S. economy, to foreign consumers. "Our" issue has gone mainstream. Given the circumstances, that's not a good thing. But it is a teachable moment.

Opinion by Jonathan Knutson
Plain Living
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