Speaking at a press conference during the organization’s 67th annual meeting Nov. 14 at the Hershey Lodge, Ebert said farmers are alarmed that the president continues to threaten a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA.
“Complete withdrawal from NAFTA is not a desirable option for American agriculture or Pennsylvania farmers, especially when you consider that 37 percent of all Pennsylvania agriculture products exported to foreign countries goes to Canada and Mexico,” he said.
Before NAFTA, the nation’s farmers did about $8 billion in foreign trade, he said. Now, that figure is $38 billion. This year, Pennsylvania alone exported $21 million in dairy products to Mexico, and $275 million in fruits, vegetables and preserves to Canada, he said.
“We’re encouraging President Trump and his trade negotiators to continue working toward an agreement that protects NAFTA’s strong agricultural component, while creating new opportunities for businesses across the nation,” he said.
The Northeast U.S. has an oversupply of milk, which has resulted in lower milk checks and economic hardship for dairy farmers, according to Ebert. Milk consumption in the U.S. is flat. That’s one reason trade with our neighbors is so important, he said.
The farm bureau also has been working with others in the dairy industry to create new opportunities and tools to help dairy farmers.
Farm bureau officials also are evaluating tax reform proposals winding through the U.S. House and Senate, Ebert said.
They support lowering tax rates and simplifying the tax code, but worry about an amendment that would make deductions for capital equipment temporary, instead of permanent, as they are now.
Today’s tax code allows farmers to deduct up to $500,000 immediately for capital purchases. While a proposal in the tax plan would increase that to $5 million, it would have to be renewed every year.
“Farmers like certainty,” Ebert said.
“They already have to deal with the uncertainty of climate, animals, they don’t want to wonder what their tax bill might be,” he said.
Overall, he said, the tax reform plan shows “promise,” and touches on some key areas relevant to farmers who file taxes as individuals or businesses.
“Some details of the plan need to be further refined in order to provide long-term relief,” he said.
The farm bureau also has been working with Pennsylvania General Assembly to garner support for a minimum royalty of 12.5 percent for natural gas extracted from farmers’ lands.
“We contend that farmers are being underpaid by some gas well operators who are unjustifiably driving royalty payments far below the state minimum by assessing production cost deductions,” he said.