A new U.S. trade deal with Canada and Mexico may not do much to stem the loss of dairy farms in Wisconsin, the owners of a Cambridge farm said Jan. 29.
In an event at Hinchley’s Dairy Farm, attended by a representative of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Tina and Duane Hinchley pointed to state figures that show more than 800 Wisconsin dairy farms shut down in 2019. That was about 10 percent of Wisconsin dairy farms, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“That’s 818 families. That’s people,” Duane Hinchley said.
It’s been “a hard thing thing to see. It’s really, really sad,” Tina Hinchley said.
Any financial benefit individual farmers might derive from the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which has been approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump and is now awaiting Canadian and Mexican approval, may be negligible, the Hinchleys predicted.
“We’re not gaining anything out it,” Duane Hinchley said. “Very little is going to go to back to the dairy farmer.”
The Hinchleys, who spoke with reporters in their dairy barn, said in the time it took to draw up the trade deal, and for it to move through Congress, China has begun shifting its purchasing of commodities to other parts of the world. South America, Duane Hinchley said, “is trending that way, they’re going to be the supplier of soybeans to China.”
“The only time they are going to come to us (to buy commodities) is when they aren’t able to get it from Brazil,” Tina Hinchley said.
Tina Hinchley said she’s hopeful, however, that dairy industry innovation in Wisconsin, particularly advances in specialty products like cheese, will help the state remain an industry leader.
But she said she’s not sure all of its sales markets will return.
“I’m hopeful that we can get some of it back but all of it I really don’t know if it will all come back,” Tina Hinchley said. “Right now, there’s a lot of uncertainty.”
The dairy market has barely been affected by Trump’s signing of the agreement in January, Duane Hinchley noted.
Milk prices “have come up a little bit since then but not necessarily because of (the agreement), and we are year-over-year statistically flat on milk production, so it was kind of a moot point,” Duane Hinchley said.
The Hinchleys, who said they didn’t plant soybeans in 2019 because of weather and market prices, the latter of which were depressed by a U.S. tariff war with China, said they’re nevertheless hopeful.
“We did have really good relationships with (Canada and Mexico) in the past and now we’re going to have a new beginning and see where it goes from there. It is our hope that it will be beneficial for everybody in the agricultural industry, not just dairy farmers,” Tina Hinchley said.
Tina Hinchley urged state and national policy makers to visit to hear from farmers themselves.
“They need to see what’s going on, they need to see how passionate we are and how important we are to the economy,” Tina Hinchley said.
Other Wisconsin dairy groups, meanwhile, praised the agreement.
In a Jan. 29 release, the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin’s largest dairy lobbying group, called it “a vital deal that will bring broad benefits in the long term for the dairy community.”
“This is an exciting day. The deal has been a long time in the making and we can finally celebrate,” said Amy Penterman, the association’s vice president.
“The relationships our country has developed with Mexico and Canada have greatly benefited the U.S. dairy community during that past 25 years under NAFTA. Mexico is now our top dairy export market and Canada is number three. We need our neighbors and they need us,” Penterman said. “Trade is a key to farmers and processors succeeding in the long term. Farms of all sizes and business models benefit when we have opportunities for free and fair trading. That success extends to all of the other businesses tied to dairy also and keeps our rural communities strong. Wisconsin dairy farmers and processors produce milk, cheese and other dairy foods that are second to none. Who better than America’s Dairyland to help meet the nutritional demands of a growing population around the world. The president and Congress, including nearly all of our delegation here in Wisconsin, deserve congratulations for working so hard on this vital agreement.”
And Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, of Green Bay, one of the largest dairy co-ops in the country based on milk volume, in a release hailed the agreement as a “tremendous victory” for the U.S. dairy community and praised Congress and President Trump’s administration for completing the deal.
“In preserving the well-established markets of Mexico and Canada, and providing opportunities for even more exports there, USMCA will help bring the long-term economic stability necessary for farmers to not only survive but thrive,” said Brody Stapel, Edge’s president and a dairy farmer in eastern Wisconsin. “The outlook is far brighter today for farmers’ businesses, families and employees, and our rural communities because of this historic agreement, which also benefits so many other parts of America’s economy. We have reason to celebrate. Congress and the administration deserve praise for recognizing how critically important USMCA is and for putting divisive politics aside to make it a reality.”