Editor’s letter: International policy is in the weeds, but farmers persist

Blake Davis

Today’s farmers are said to watch the sky for weather and the commodities market for the prices of their crops. Yet they are also astute observers of government.

So when there was finally a presidential candidate who listened to them and talked like them, it was a heartening development, and he got their votes. But not all has gone according to plan—the president’s or theirs.

“I like him, but I’m worried,” about sums up the views of President Trump in the regions of America said to feed the country.

Such words might be spoken by someone like Phillip Hord, a fifth generation pork producer, who says his family’s farm in Bucyrus, Ohio, relies on foreign trade. He and other farmers produce far more pork than is consumed in the U.S. So they sell the excess to other countries, as Emma Gregg explains in a recent story.

That model is under fire by Trump, who has been outspoken against foreign trade, to put it mildly.

And he continues to threaten NAFTA, the longstanding free trade agreement that benefits many growers and the businesses connected to them. And not just with respect to pork, but grain, dairy and virtually anything that is grown or raised in America. All of which other countries depend on, too.

Yet in truth, NAFTA, the future of which remains hazy, is just one factor in what’s become a muddy situation.

Dairy farmers are imperiled by a Canadian government that has ceased to accept an American milk product.

“Unauthorized” workers from other countries have long picked American produce, yet they are suddenly unwelcome. Many of them could literally be walled of. Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that 50-70 percent of all agricultural workers are undocumented.

In this climate, growers and producers persist, amazingly. Crops must be planted; soil needs to be tended even as international policy is in the weeds.

So in a way, it’s business as usual for an industry that’s accustomed to odds stacked against it. Wheeler Brothers Grain Co., recently profiled, is celebrating a century of steady growth. Its plan for the future, according to Co-CEO Todd Lafferty, boils down to a philosophy he sums up in seven words: “Customer service and the retention of employees.”

Williams Gin & Grain Inc. continues to reap the rewards of an optimally-located facility on Highway 22, a mile west of Frost, Texas. “The old saying of the three most important things for a successful business are location, location, location has never been more true,” says General Manager Todd McGraw, one of seven farmers who own the company.

Of course, for readers who have no interest in these topics, US Business Executive will continue to share stories unrelated to agriculture.

Including one on Manning Brothers Food Service Equipment and Supply Co., whose owner knows the trade down to the complicated gas lines in a massive “combi” oven. Due almost entirely to a common-sense approach, the company grew 53 percent in 2015 and 30 percent in 2016.

But then again, all things being connected, the food industry isn’t so far removed from agriculture. What’s a kitchen without food to cook, and what’s a workforce without a full bellies?

And so as Washington vacillates on important matters, we’ll be among the growers and the businesses that serve them, waiting to see whether it is drought or rain on the horizon.

Read more here, in our Spring 2017 edition.