North Country dairy farmers say trade agreements haven't delivered on promises
Agriculture is an essential part of the North Country's economy. St. Lawrence and Jefferson County are among the top ten farming counties in the state. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand visited Watertown yesterday to speak with farmers about new federal policies that could help them prosper. Many of the farmers who attended were most concerned about GMO labeling and improving international trade.
Edward Walldroff, who operates a dairy farm in Lafargeville, said when The North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1992, it promised dairy farmers their milk would be exported into Canada.
“We got sold a bill of goods. It never happened," said Walldroff.
According to the National Milk Federation, Canada now has a pricing policy that discourages yogurt and cheese-makers from using imported milk.
Walldroff said trade barriers like that one convinced him to get out of the conventional dairy business.
“To this day I say don’t get excited about consumer opportunities in Canada because Canada is going to take care of their own.”
Gillibrand acknowledged that trade agreements don’t always deliver on their promises.
“The problem is these partners don’t play ball the way we play ball. We follow the rules and they don’t and our farmers are often left holding the bag," Gillibrand said.
Farmers also voiced concern over a proposed law that requires all genetically modified foods be labeled.
Julia Robbins, who grows GMO corn, said she thinks labeling will scare people away from buying those products. She said the North Country's current and ongoing drought proves how vital GMOs can be to farmers.
“If we didn’t have GMO corn, we wouldn’t have a corn crop right now. It would have come out of the ground and died,” Robbins said.
Gillibrand said she thinks consumers have a right to know what's in their food, but she agrees that the public needs to be more educated about the benefits of genetically modified crops. The senator said she will use the farmers’ concerns to help to draft a new Farm Bill two years from now.