The Planted Row: National problems hit close to home

Stan Wise

by Stan Wise, Farm Forum Editor

On today’s front page you can find a story that reminds us the nation’s most pressing problems are not far away from farm country. (Online readers can find the story here.) Our problems aren’t just concentrated on the coasts and borders. No, they’re right here among us, maybe even on your neighbor’s farm.

The story concerns a 13-year-old boy who faced an impossible choice — starve to death or work for criminals and risk his life. This boy made a brave decision to find a new option. He made a harrowing trip to another country.

He came to our country.

He didn’t come here to cause trouble. He came here to work. He ended up working a job that most Americans will not do — working at a dairy. While here, he met a woman, fell in love, started a family, and started his own herd. That’s not easy to do.

Yes, he was here illegally; though, not, perhaps, immorally. Who could blame him for trying to go somewhere he could build, through hard work, a life to be proud of?

With life looking up, this immigrant tried to do the right thing and earn his visa so he could stay here legally. In the last step of the process, he had to go home to Mexico, where he was blocked from not only receiving his visa but also from returning to the U.S.

Now his pregnant wife is forced to look after their children and handle calving season on her own.

Lately, in the national discussion, there’s been a lot of negative talk about immigrants. We’re even talking about building a border wall and making another country pay for it. In a new crackdown, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been rounding up illegal immigrants for deportation who had previously been given a pass. Some of these immigrants have families. Though the attorney for the immigrant in our story doesn’t believe his visa was denied due to the new administration’s actions, many other families will find themselves in a similar situation — ripped in half and separated by government policies.

It would be easy to look the other way while this tragedy plays out on our watch. There’s no real way this will affect us here in Northern Plains farm country where most of us are natural citizens, right?

Maybe, maybe not.

One Mexican lawmaker has proposed a bill that would stop Mexico from purchasing corn grown in the U.S. and instead purchase it from Brazil and Argentina. Of course, such action would probably violate the North American Free Trade Agreement, but our own president has said he dislikes NAFTA and wants to renegotiate it. U.S. corn still has a price advantage over South American corn, but how long will that remain the case and how much will it sway Mexicans who are angry at new U.S. policies?

Whether or not Mexico ever follows through with such a proposal, it should serve as a reminder to us that the U.S. is not alone in the world. As other countries catch up to our level of agricultural achievement, it will only get harder for our ag products to compete on the global market. This will have a direct influence on your bottom line.

So if we allow our leaders, who are acting on our behalf, to antagonize other countries, those countries could hit us right where it hurts — in the grain bin.

The U.S. does this all the time. We impose economic sanctions on countries that act in ways we dislike. If you don’t want other countries imposing sanctions on your farm, it might be time to let your representatives in Washington know they need to accept a reality that farmers have lived with for some time now. We’re players in a global market, and how we behave can either limit or expand our options in that marketplace.