Buffalo County (WQOW) - Less than a week after President Donald Trump was sworn into office, he has made a big impact on policy, withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), directing the construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and speeding the deportation of undocumented immigrants. All could affect Wisconsin farmers.
Buffalo County dairy and crop farmer Joe Bragger said he was not surprised with President Trump's withdrawal from TPP because it was a campaign promise. The American Farm Bureau Federation said the decision could cost U.S. farmers $4.4 billion in net income per year.
"Right in Arcadia, they are filling those trans-shipping containers with soybeans to be sent over to Asia, so some of this is driving our economies locally," Bragger said. "In the dairy industry, 15-percent of the dairy products produced in the U.S. are exported. That's one day of production out of every week."
The TPP withdrawal will not affect the full 15-percent of dairy exports, but farmers also want to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which covers trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Bragger said Mexico is the United States' top customer with $1.2 billion spent in a year. He said he is optimistic about Trump's trade policies.
"The TPP door slamming shut is going to offer a lot of other opportunities. The North American Free Trade Agreement, that has opened our doors to Mexico, should also have opened up our doors to Canada. However, our Canadian partners are not necessarily following the rules that are in place," Bragger said. "If we are going to put America first, we're going to renegotiate a lot of those deals."
Bragger said more than 130 food and agricultural organizations have contacted President Trump to highlight the importance of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for the nation's diverse agriculture industry. Bragger added to maintain a supply of food, fuel, and fiber to export, they need farm hands.
"When it comes to actually handling with the cows, doing the milking, doing those routine jobs, we have difficulty filling those locally."
He said Trump's talk on immigration has some farmers and workers worried.
"I've spoken with other farmers, and some of their labor force is scared, nervous, considering going back home, not sure where things are headed right now," Bragger said.
Bragger is no stranger to immigration laws. His parents both immigrated individually from Switzerland in the 1960s. On his farm, Bragger has up to seven hired hands, like Carin Elkstrom who came from Finland with a J-1 Visa.
"I'm here as an intern, so I'm basically learning from Joe and his farm family, and they are teaching me everything about farming basically," said Elkstrom.
Bragger said for his other workers, they do the best they can to make sure their documentation is correct. He said current laws make it hard for farmers to have a legal labor force.
"What needs to happen and I believe what will happen, is we'll develop legislation to have orderly immigration and workforce," said Bragger.
Bragger hopes as Trump pledges to put America first, the American farmer will also be a top priority.
"The world needs nutrition," Bragger said. "The American dairy farmer, the American crop farmer, the American farmer can supply that. We just need to get the access."
One immigration issue Bragger hopes will be addressed is the H-2 Visa for agricultural workers. He said it is a seasonal visa that doesn't fit with the 365-day schedule of a dairy operation.