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Wisconsin dairy farmers hopeful but skeptical over new North American trade agreement

Farmers and lawmakers are hoping that new policies — including an increase in dairy exports to Canada — can stabilize the industry while some still think more needs to be done.  

Farmers and lawmakers are hoping that new policies — including an increase in dairy exports to Canada — can stabilize the industry while some still think more needs to be done.  

Image By: Bryce Richter

Following the passage of the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal by President Donald Trump Wednesday, farmers in Wisconsin are hopeful it will help bring stability after several years of economic problems. 

The USCMA, which replaced the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement , will include stricter rules on labor and automotive content but leaves $1.2 trillion in annual US-Canada-Mexico trade flows largely unchanged. 

Trump called the new bipartisan deal the “largest, fairest, most balanced and modern trade agreement ever achieved,” also stating that the new provisions should help the dairy industry.

Under the new deal, U.S. dairy farmers will be able to export the equivalent of 3.6 percent of Canada’s dairy market — triple the existing level of 1 percent. 

Congressman Glenn Grothmann, R-Glenbeulah, praised the new legislation as an improvement to NAFTA, in particular for dairy farmers. 

Grothmann sees the new agreement as a victory for the American economy and thinks the nearly 231,000 Wisconsin jobs and $11 billion in exports supported by trade with Canada and Mexico will get a “better playing field.”

“Wisconsin's manufacturers, our world-famous dairy industry and our entire agriculture sector will benefit from the USMCA trade agreement,” Grothmann said

While farmers in Wisconsin are hopeful the new agreement can help them rebuild, reactions have been mixed, with most believing there is still more to be done.

Poor economic conditions have led to a 40 percent decrease in dairy farms in the past 16 years.  The decline has been steeper in recent years, with Wisconsin losing dairy farms at a rate of two a day since 2018. 

Mitch Breunig, a dairy and crop farmer, said he believes the USCMA will create a stronger foundation and remains hopeful the dairy industry can “build for the future.”

Duane Hinchley, a dairy farmer from Cambridge, Wisconsin — about 25 miles southeast of Madison — is a little less optimistic about the new agreement.

“USMCA is really NAFTA all over again,” Duane Hinchley said. 

Duane and Tina Hinchley had to diversify their business to stay in operation, but things still feel up in the air in the industry for the two.

“Right now there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Tina Hinchley said. “Our markets are volatile, milk prices up and down like a yo-yo, we’ve got issues with weather and everything else that goes with it. It’s always been that way, but more so recently.”

With the fluctuations for dairy farmers, the Hinchleys are encouraged by the recent focus on agriculture in Gov. Tony Evers’ State of the State address. 

Evers called for a special legislative session on agriculture with an aim to increase dairy exports, restructure grant programs to help smaller farms and bring resources closer to rural farmers. 

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