Montana farmers, ranchers talk trade, farm bill with Tester

by Missoula Current, Jenn Rowell

GREAT FALLS – Farmers and ranchers from across Montana shared their concerns related to trade policies and the upcoming Farm Bill with Sen. Jon Tester during a listening session in Great Falls this weekend.

Many of their concerns focused on the uncertainty related to international trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S., Canada and Asia-Pacific countries, including Japan.

Michelle Erickson-Jones, president of the Montana Grain Growers Association, said NAFTA is big for barley growers. She believes the U.S. should finalize the deal, though they still have issues related to grading Canadian grain.

As far as TPP, she said if the deal goes through without the U.S., American wheat will be at a $65 per metric ton disadvantage. Japan is a major wheat and barley customer, she said.

“That would be devastating to our farmers,” Erickson-Jones said.

Almost 30 percent of Montana wheat is exported to countries that have recently reached agreement on a Trans-Pacific Partnership deal that excludes the U.S. Japan alone purchases about 20 percent of Montana’s annual wheat production.

Ben Peterson of Montana Farmers Union said uncertainty in trade makes it difficult to maintain and cultivate new markets.

“Blowing up NAFTA is a bad idea,” he said.