'What happens in Beijing affects us at our farm': Wausau forum on tariff impact

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) -- “In the first quarter of 2018 to the first quarter of 2019, dairy exports in this state are down to China by nearly 50%,” Brad Pfaff, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) Secretary-designee, said at a forum in Wausau Tuesday night.

That data comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as other agencies, Pfaff told NewsChannel 7. It’s a statistic that highlights one of the main purposes of the U.S.-China Trade Tensions forum at the UW Center for Civic Engagement, as told by several of the experts on the stage.

The forum, hosted through a partnership between the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service and the UW-Madison Center for East Asian Studies, featured Pfaff, Pam Jahnke from Wisconsin Farm Report Radio as moderator, Dr. Ian Coxhead from the UW-Madison Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, Will Hsu from Hsu’s Ginseng, and Don Radtke with the Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

“What happens in Beijing affects us at our farm,” Radtke explained. “China’s a long way away. We are in a global market, and I think more people need to understand that. How does that talk in China affect me here in central Wisconsin?”

The main loss, of course, is that Wisconsin farmers have lost major export markets to other countries, especially those in South America, multiple farmers have told us.

“How much are we going to keep losing till we get those back?” Radtke noted. “Until we get this figured out, we’re not going to be a player. And we need to be a player in this as much as possible.”

Another issue raised at the forum centered on concerns about the World Trade Organization, which is questioning the latest $16 billion round in farmer assistance. The WTO has strict rules about permitted subsidies for member governments, and the US will have an opportunity to respond to the questions and allegations at the quarterly agriculture committee meeting later this month. Coxhead noted that the threat of breaking the U.S relationship with the WTO could be crucial, once their partnership is needed.

Figuring out how to bring solutions to Wisconsin farmers is an issue Pfaff discussed with NewsChannel 7 prior to the forum. He says his first priority is finding markets for Wisconsin farmers, although he along with others at the forum admits that there’s no clear solution yet for regaining lost markets.

“From Stratford to Medford to Edgar to Merrill, all of these communities are impacted when farmers do not have money to spend,” he said. “I want [farmers] to know that there are consumers that want their product, that want the opportunity to enjoy Wisconsin agriculture products.”

Pushing product development into the forefront is one of Governor Tony Evers’ goals for the industry, Pfaff says. Republican legislators have approved $8.8 million a new Dairy Innovation Hub inside the UW System, a recommendation that came out of former Governor Scott Walker’s Dairy Task Force 2.0 that released its recommendations earlier this year. Evers also proposed a program in his initial budget proposal to study and boost dairy exports, but that program was not approved by the budget committee in the GOP-controlled legislature.

Pfaff says the administration is investing in new opportunities to find new fluid beverage products containing milk, as the demand for standard milk products is decreasing while the overall consumer demand for dairy is growing.

For farmers struggling to get crops in the ground due to a long, cold winter, wet spring and late growing season, the Prevent Plant Program offered by the USDA farm service agency helps provide financial assistance. Additionally, DATCP offers a Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program with risk protection for dairy producers.

Click here for additional 7 Investigates coverage of tariff impact on local farmers.