Overall, corn and corn products today account for more than 30 percent of U.S. farmer income, according to the National Corn Growers Association. Mexico was the top export market for corn last year, while Canada is also a major market for corn as well as ethanol.
For soybeans, about 45 percent of the U.S. crop is exported on average and Mexico is one of the major markets along with China.
“If everybody decided to close their borders to U.S. products and protect their own farmers with high subsidies, we’d have no place to get rid of our soybeans,” said Rick Ostlie, a soybean farmer in North Dakota and former president of the American Soybean Association.
Ostlie added: “It’s easy to say we’re going to improve NAFTA. But whether you’re buying a car or negotiating a trade agreement, there’s got to be give and take. You negotiate and get middle of the road … and if it’s to your best interest you do it. You’re never going to get 100 percent of everything you want.”
Another industry that has thrived under NAFTA is the poultry market. Mexico and Canada together account for almost 40 percent of the American broiler exports. U.S.-produced pork also is a major export to Mexico and Canada.
“NAFTA has been incredibly successful for our industry,” said Jennifer Myers, a spokesperson for the National Corn Growers Association. “We are closely monitoring the negotiations and will continue to advocate for corn farmers’ interests throughout this process.”
Former Canadian diplomat Lawrence Herman, now a senior fellow at the Toronto think tank C.D. Howe Institute, wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday’s Globe and Mail newspaper that “Canada should be considering a world without the NAFTA or, possibly, without even the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement.”
According to the California Farm Bureau Federation, not all sectors of agriculture in the state have benefited from NAFTA. Specifically, the group maintains that Mexican imports of asparagus, avocados, tomatoes and cut flowers have hurt growers in the state.
Nonetheless, the California farm group still believes the trade deal has on balance been a good thing for California, which produces more than one-quarter of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and most of its tree nuts.