Gov. Scott Walker says President Trump has “really gotten Canada’s attention” on a crisis facing some Wisconsin dairy farmers, partly due to his threats to pull out of the NAFTA trade agreement.
Dozens of Wisconsin farmers have struggled in recent weeks to find a buyer for their milk after a Canadian pricing policy change caused a company to cut those farmers’ contracts starting Monday. Walker said Wednesday he hopes Trump’s “aggressive actions and statements” will push Canada to reconsider.
“If we can get some way of at least having temporary relief from that, I think that would allow us greater ability to work through this,” Walker told reporters at a Wisconsin Restaurant Association event in Madison.
Walker on Tuesday announced the state would offer more favorable loan guarantees to eligible dairy farmers and processors. Walker said Wednesday the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority has seen significant interest in that already.
In all, 58 farms were told their contracts with Grassland Dairy Products were ending on Monday due to Canada’s policy shift.
DATCP is working with dairy processors to see if they’ll buy some of the farmers’ milk — even if the market is fairly oversupplied already. Walker noted, for example, that Mosinee-based Mullins Cheese agreed to buy up milk from some of those farms right away.
Dan Smith, the division administrator for DATCP’s Division of Agricultural Development, said the agency is “feeling optimistic.” He declined to provide updated figures because they were “probably going to be outdated” within hours.
“We’re encouraged by the progress that we’ve made over the last 48 hours,” Smith said. “We know that we have some farms that need to find a home, but the process is continuing.”
National media reported Wednesday that Trump is weighing an executive order that would have the U.S. withdraw from NAFTA. Trump this week also announced the U.S. is planning on adding tariffs to imported Canadian soft lumber, much of which is used to build homes.
That’s long been a priority for the U.S. timber industry, which says Canada heavily subsidizes its industry and leads to U.S. paper mills and saw mills buying cheaper Canadian wood instead of American wood.
“Without this tariff, the Canadians can sell to these same places at a vastly reduced price and in essence flood the market, so the demand for the raw material that I produce is curtailed,” said Matt Jensen, who owns White Tail Logging in Crandon and is vice president of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association.
But the tariff announcement has drawn concerns from home builders, who say the price of building and remodeling homes will spike. Brad Boycks, the executive director of the Wisconsin Builders Association, said in a statement the tariffs would be “driving up costs further and keeping new homes out of reach for countless Wisconsin families,” calling for both countries to work on a long-term solution.
Walker noted the logging issue has been a debate for decades and that Wisconsin has communicated with Canada on both issues.
Trump’s indications that the U.S. would pull out of NAFTA, he said, could make Canadians “much more likely to come to the table and try to level these things out.”
“Our dairy industry, our timber industry is the best in the world,” he said. “We can compete with anyone. We just need a level playing field.”