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Montana Ag Network: June 17th Report — USMCA update, US Drought Monitor, American Dairy Coalition

Congressional lawmakers from agricultural and farm states are making a full-court press to get desperately needed trade deals across the finish line. Billions of dollars in new and restored trade hang in the balance, with time running out to get deals done this year with Mexico, Canada, China, and Japan.

Trump administration officials are negotiating with House Democrats to iron out differences before sending up the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Gregg Doud, agriculture representatives at the  U.S. Trade Representative’s Office, said the USCMA is good for all of U.S. Agriculture.

“In terms of certainty, the first thing we can do is pass USMCA,” said Doud. “From there, we work on Japan and China, and get these things done … and, in terms of historical issues, I would say, there has been work on China, historically…and I would say, we just won two of the biggest cases, in the history of agriculture, against China.”

Almost 1,000 farm-related groups wrote congressional leaders urging them to ratify the USMCA, worth an estimated $2.2 billion in new U.S. farm sales.

USDA Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney weighed in on the trade issues.

“I still think, and I’ve said many times, that the rewrite of the sanitary/phytosanitary chapter, may be the greatest gift out of USMCA — free, fair and reciprocal trade,” said McKinney. “So, I think that’s the greatest gift. I still think though, the biggest one, though, is the message the passage of USMCA will send to the world. If we don’t get this done, we’re in deep trouble, in terms of other negotiations we seek to do because this is a good deal.”

Congress has up to 90 legislative days to review USMCA, once the White House sends it up to Capitol Hill, leaving little time to resolve partisan differences and ratify the deal before an election year.

For the contiguous 48 states, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 4.12% of the area in moderate drought or worse, compared with 5.28% a week earlier. Drought now affects 11 million people, compared with 13 million a week earlier.

In northeastern Montana, areas of abnormally dry conditions were expanded in response to below-normal precipitation during the past 30 days. Northwest Montana is still seeing abnormally dry to severe drought conditions. Speaking with producers this weekend from the golden triangle and that part of the Hi-Line, drought along with severe weather has had a negative impact on crops.

The American Dairy Coalition and its members across the country are pleased with the passage of the Cellar-Newhouse Amendment. It allows year-round dairy employees to utilize the H-2A visa program.

The coalition says without a tool to provide the nation’s dairy farmers with a reliable workforce, farms will struggle to grow or sustain their operations. The amendment will provide a tool to help farmers answer the question of, “Who will milk the cows?”

Laurie Fischer, CEO of the American Dairy Coalition, says dairy farmers consistently see their “Help Wanted” ads go unfilled. “Our domestic workforce is not filling agricultural jobs that are necessary to keep it running,” she says. “We need tools to provide an avenue for farmers to access legal workers willing to fill these year-round jobs.”

Additionally, the program will provide the time employers need to make sure their workers are trained to provide the best standard of animal care possible. The dairy industry has a total economic impact of $620 billion and supports more than three million jobs. The industry has to have qualified workers to milk and care for the cows every day. Adding dairy to the H-2A program will be a critical step toward making sure that happens.

-Reporting by Lane Nordlund/MTN News

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