The United States and Canada reached a last-minute deal Sunday to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is a "hopeful" sign for Maine Dairy Farmers, according to a state trade group.
According to Maine Dairy Industry Association Executive Director Julie-Marie Bickford, dairy farmers right now could really use the new opportunities.
“Right now the prices that farmers are being paid have hit some historic lows, and our farms are truly struggling,” Bickford says.
Bickford says that although people think of milk as local, dairy is a global industry, and it’s one that is particularly dependent on Mexico and Canada.
“We are part of a system that relies a great deal on the ability to export dairy products around the world, and our two major conduits to get dairy products out into the global marketplace are through Mexico and through Canada,” Bickford says.
The new agreement between the Trump Administration and Canada will allow the United States to increase dairy exports into that country. American dairy exports include cheese, and milk powder, which can travel long distances without spoiling.
“With the opportunity to ship U.S. products abroad, that strengthens sales opportunities and, hopefully, will kick the price up so our local farms can continue to survive and hire local people, and of course produce fresh quality milk that we all can drink,” Bickford says.
Walter Whitcomb, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, says state agricultural officials hope the new agreement signals a change in the way Canada and the U.S. react to dairy issues. He says Canada has had a very closed dairy market.
“The movement is critical,” says Whitcomb. “I mean sending product to Canada, versus trying to absorb it in the American market, is one of the negative impacts that we've had on our price, and the fact that Canada is now talking about having free trade with dairy is a monumental change on their part.”
However, Whitcomb says there's probably not going to be a lot of Maine product going to Canada in the short run, but he says a market thaw between the U.S. and Canada could improve the climate for other Maine agricultural products, such as potatoes.
Bickford says that dairy in Maine is a $500 million per year industry.