Guest Commentary

Family farms like mine need cool heads on trade

Casey Guernsey meets with Rep. Sam Graves
Casey Guernsey meets with Rep. Sam Graves Submitted photo

On Sunday, Canada moved forward with tariffs on $12.5 billion of American products. China is expected to follow suit on Friday by imposing tariffs on another $34 billion of American products — all in response to U.S. tariffs. As the owner and operator of a small family farm, this is devastating news.

For Missouri, $432 million worth of our state’s exports to Canada alone are threatened by retaliatory tariffs — $881 million in total with other countries — according to a recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This will have lasting consequences for families and rural communities in Missouri and across our country.

Generally, I don’t keep up with the back and forth in Washington. But the uncertainty of trade and market access has heightened my awareness of the important role our elected leaders have in shaping policy that impacts the agricultural economy. That is why I went to our nation’s capital last week. Family farmers like me rely on free trade agreements to run our businesses, and I want to ensure our voices do not get lost in the debate.

I am the seventh generation of my family to farm in Harrison County. I am fighting to keep it that way for generations to come, but restricting our ability to export homegrown goods across the globe will make it much more difficult.

On our farm, we sell bulls to other operators so they can introduce them to their herds and improve their quality. However, if politicians restrict relationships with our trading partners across the globe, my customers will sell less beef. When my customers sell less beef, they buy fewer bulls from me, and my business begins to crumble.

The purpose of this trip was to show Washington that real people are impacted by the decisions officials make and offer my help to change the trade conversation. And it came at a critical time for the agricultural community. With farm income at a 16-year low and the cost of products we use continuing to rise, we need every possible win we can get.

Unfortunately, if recent rhetoric about our free trade agreements becomes a reality, family farmers like me could suffer immensely, or even be wiped out of business. When tariffs are imposed on our trading partners, they retaliate — and farmers are usually the first to find themselves in the crosshairs. With the vast majority of consumers living outside our borders, our livelihoods depend on market access.

After spending some more time in D.C., I can definitively say I prefer life in the Show-Me State. But after meeting with Sen. Claire McCaskill’s staff, as well as with Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Sam Graves themselves, I am leaving with a great deal of appreciation for the Missouri delegation and their commitment to preserving and protecting free trade policies we rely on, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

By allowing America’s producers to access markets in Canada and Mexico, trade deals like NAFTA allow small family farms to sell more homegrown goods to customers not just in America, but all across the continent. Since NAFTA was signed into law, the American agriculture industry has grown to support 43 million jobs, and has helped American farmers export more than $44 billion to our neighbors to the north and south in just one year.

When President Donald Trump took office and signed tax reform into law, farmers were optimistic that the tides were about to turn in rural America’s favor. While there’s unease around recent trade policy, I am confident that the Missouri delegation can effectively lead efforts in Congress, along with Trump and his administration, to ensure farmers like me can continue selling our homegrown goods to consumers across the globe.

I’ve seen just how much free trade policies can help small, family-owned farms build a thriving business, and I hope my story will help ensure our course on trade with Mexico and Canada is preserved and strengthened.

Casey Guernsey is a seventh-eneration farmer, former Missouri state legislator and former chairman of the Agri- Business Committee. He is also a spokesperson for the trade policy group Americans for Farmers & Families.