Free trade vital to survival of Colorado ag producers

Don Brown
Don Brown

If you live in Colorado or your business is touched in any way by any aspect of the agricultural industry, the ongoing national discussion about trade agreements and import tariffs should mean a lot to you.

Farmers and ranchers understand there are a lot of things like weather and market price fluctuations we can’t control. But we can make every effort to create new market opportunities and expand the global partnerships we have worked so hard to develop for our products. 

We all need to work together to protect our state’s position in international markets. The Colorado farm community can’t afford to wait quietly for Washington to put forth a comprehensive trade strategy. While we wait, our global competitors move aggressively to formalize trade pacts to put them at a competitive advantage to the United States. It’s not right to force hard-working farmers and ranchers to stand idle while this political drama plays out.

Colorado ranchers and farmers need free and open access to international markets as well as trade agreements that help us advance our export relationships. Over the last few years, Colorado agriculture helped lead our state out of the Great Recession, the worst downturn since the Great Depression. A big part of that was our ability to trade with more than 100 countries that purchase Colorado food and agricultural products. Exports of food and agricultural products from Colorado have quadrupled in the past 20 years.

Agriculture is one of Colorado’s top economic sectors, creating approximately 173,000 jobs. And it’s not just farm and ranch families affected by the free trade discussion. If our markets are shut down, it will affect the dealerships where farmers buy equipment, the coffee shops where they eat lunch, the gas stations where they fuel up and the banks where they do business. According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, every billion dollars of exports support more than 5,220 jobs. And every dollar of exports creates an additional $1.14 of economic activity for Colorado citizens.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is vital for the well-being of Colorado and the United States. As U.S. farm incomes decline, the export market is often what keeps rural communities afloat. In Colorado, nearly all of our 33,800 farms and ranches are family owned. These are your friends and neighbors working long hours in the cold and heat to produce food for your family.

We all need to raise our voices to oppose new tariffs and protect American farmers from the retaliation that will surely come from our trading partners with the imposition of tariffs on their products entering the U.S. Not only would these tariffs hurt our farmers and ranchers, but also raise prices for American consumers. I’m working collaboratively across agriculture, including Farmers for Free Trade, to help farmers and ranchers speak up in support of trade that expands export opportunities and strengthens U.S. agriculture. See how you can get involved at www.farmersforfreetrade.com.    

Multiple generations of my family have worked the same land in Yuma County for more than a century, and we can appreciate the complex problems Colorado ranchers and farmers face during difficult times. When prices of such commodities as wheat and corn drop to 1980s levels while the costs of operating that farm remains at 2018 levels, there’s often a very fine line between a good year and a year when a family struggles to make a living.

The hard-working families making a living on our ranches and farms simply can’t afford to have their share of export revenue reduced. They are asking only for the right to trade in a fair and free global marketplace.

Don Brown serves as Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture. For more information, visit www.colorado.gov/agmain.