Randy Parker, CEO of the Utah Farm Bureau, says it’s been a tough few years for the Beehive state’s farmers and ranchers.
“As an example...prices for milk are probably down half, 50 percent at least, from where they were just two years ago,” he says.
Incomes have been declining for farmers across the U.S. as commodity prices remain low for staples like milk, corn and wheat.
Parker says he’s concerned that President Trump’s trade agenda could be another setback. Throughout his campaign, Trump pledged to rip up trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and renegotiate them with more favorable terms.
Although he’s only hinted at what those deals might look like, Utah farmers who depend on them are concerned. Utah’s top agricultural export is beef, which travels to Canada, Mexico and throughout Asia — and higher tariffs means they may be less competitive with other countries.
Parker says Trump’s harsh rhetoric is already having a ripple effect as Mexico considers scaling back on dairy and corn imports from the U.S.
“It’s really important to understand, these things, whatever the sabre rattling might be, is impacting the prices of agricultural commodities…and it’s hurting real American and real Utah families,” he says.
The state's agriculture sector is a multi-billion dollar industry and supports close to 80,000 jobs.
Parker says his organization has stepped up its outreach to Utah’s congressional delegation and is adjusting to an administration with a more isolationist view point.
“We need to address the trade issues to be fair to Utah and American farmers and ranchers and not have a burden in trade negotiations that they bear on their backs as this takes place,” he says.
Parker says he’s hopeful that the upcoming Senate confirmation of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as Agriculture Secretary will give Utah’s farmers and ranchers a key ally in the White House on issues like agricultural trade and labor.