The big three national agriculture topics from 2019

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks during an event to sign an update to the North American Free Trade Agreement, at the national palace in Mexico City, Tuesday, Dec. 10. 2019.

Agriculture was in the news plenty in 2019, from trade to animal rights issues. The Wisconsin State Farmer takes a look at three of the biggest national issues involving agriculture.

1. On again, off again trade talks with China kept tension high throughout the year until finally President Donald Trump agreed to roll back tariffs on $360 billion in Chinese imports and canceling/delaying levies scheduled to take effect in December on another $160 billion worth of goods in a sign of easing trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Just weeks earlier Trump had downplayed the likelihood of reaching a U.S.-China trade deal before next year's elections sending stocks sinking.

The United States and Japan signed a limited trade agreement in October, a deal that would win back benefits American farmers lost when Trump pulled out of a broader Asia-Pacific pact his first week in office.

The decision to roll back the existing tariffs and cancel/delay new levies set to take effect last weekend buys the two sides additional time to finalize a limited trade deal.

In October, trade wars threatened to push the global economy into recession entering a new phase, with the United States and European Union escalating a dispute that endangers the world’s biggest trade relationship.

While President Trump announced he has shelved U.S. plans to impose new tariffs on $160 billion of Chinese goods, neither government has released detailed paperwork on the agreement.

After the Trump administration slapped steep tariffs on $7.5 billion in EU goods, mainly traditional produce like cheese and wine, the Europeans made clear they would retaliate in kind. Some feared the tariffs could ultimately lead to U.S. import duties on European cars, a big economic blow that Trump has been threatening to deliver for months.

2. Another aspect of trade, topping the news in 2019 was the United State Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), which was on hold throughout the year until being overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representative on Dec. 19.

Lawmakers voted 385 to 41 to approve the USMCA, which puts in place rules for moving products among the three countries. The vote clears the way for the Senate to ratify the deal early next year.

3. In June, news of an undercover video showing abuse of cattle at Fair Oaks Farms surfaced creating a storm of attention. The video released by an animal rights group showed employees physically abusing calves at the large dairy operation.

Shortly after birth, the calves at Fair Oaks Farms are separated from their mothers and placed in their own huts. Bull calves here are sold, but heifers – the females – become milking cows.

Owners of Fair Oaks vowed to take steps to make sure no abuse happened again, but it wasn't enough as stores quickly began pulling Fair Oaks products off shelves as a result of the videos.

Three former employees of a large northwestern Indiana dairy were charged with animal cruelty. Investigators looked into whether an animal rights group worker coerced employees into the abuse of young calves that was captured on the video.

In December,  one man accused of abusing calves was sentenced to a year of probation after a felony charge was dropped.

It's been a rough year of trade wars for farmers. Hopefully with the USMCA headed to Senate and trade talks with China taking a positive turn, 2020 will be a brighter year for farmers. 

Carol Spaeth-Bauer at 262-875-9490 or Follow her on Twitter at cspaethbauer or Facebook at