NAFTA: Putting family farmers out of business since 1994

NFFCNFFC In the News

Op-ed by Patti Naylor, Darvin Bentlage, John Harter and Christopher Mosel

Originally posted August 30, 2019, at

Two longtime Iowa politicians, Sen. Charles Grassley and now dairy industry lobbyist Tom Vilsack, held a press conference recently touting the gains for farmers from President Trump’s newly negotiated NAFTA. We’re family farmers and we’ve heard this same line on new trade deals for decades. We’ve had enough.

We’ve read enough of the corporate ag narrative about how great “free trade” has been for American farmers and rural economies. And how we need to double down and pass the new NAFTA. The truth is, NAFTA has not been a good deal for U.S. farmers, or for farmers in Canada and Mexico. So-called free trade has created windfall profits for multinational meatpackers and grain traders. The real story can be seen out our windows, on our Main Streets and in the growing average age of the U.S. farmer because their children can’t afford to come back to the farm.

Since NAFTA’s start in 1994, “free trade” schemes have put hundreds of thousands of U.S. family farms out of business, while dramatically increasing corporate agribusiness’ profits, market control and the monopolization of our farm and food industry. These changes, coupled with the rapid expansion of publicly financed and often un-regulated corporate factory farms, have put thousands of independent livestock and dairy producers out of business.

The situation confronting independent family farmers is dire.

Since NAFTA, our country has lost two-thirds of our hog producers and one-quarter of our cattle producers. For grain producers, the situation isn’t much better — prices paid to farmers haven’t risen because of free trade agreements, and taking into account increased input costs and inflation have decreased significantly.

Family farm groups asked the Trump Administration to support U.S. ranchers and rural communities by restoring mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork in the new NAFTA. Instead, the U.S. Trade Representative followed the lead of corporate front-groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), and excluded mandatory COOL from the new deal. COOL supports U.S. livestock production by letting consumers know which country the meat on the grocery store shelves comes from (i.e. where it was born, raised and slaughtered). The adoption of COOL in 2009 led to a steady price increase in beef until pressure from corporate meatpackers and industry groups resulted in its repeal by Congress in 2015.  Cow/calf profit per cow per year dropped from $438 in 2015 to less than $138 now. “Free trade” and the NCBA killed COOL, and U.S. cattle producers are getting paid a lot less.