For a peek at the future of the U.S. dairy industry and the potential impact of the November presidential election, who better to ask than Orion Samuelson?
The dean of U.S. farm broadcasting, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, has been on the air at Chicago’s WGN Radio since 1960 and offers a time-tested perspective on the dairy industry and U.S. agriculture.
Real Agriculture’s Bernard Tobin sat down with the long-time host of U.S. Farm Report and This Week in AgriBusiness for a feature interview earlier this week at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.
The dairy industry has had its ups and downs, like all commodities, says Samuelson, and with low milk prices, farmers are struggling. But things are changing, especially when it comes to how dairy farmers are coping with the downturn, says the member of the U.S. National Radio Hall of Fame.
Samuelson shares stories of entrepreneurial farmers who are turning to milking sheep to take advantage of emerging markets for new cheese products. He also notes the growing adoption of robot milkers in the U.S. as farmers look for ways to remain competitive and deal with a growing farm labour shortage.
Samuelson pulls no punches on the issue of trade. He notes that 95% of the world’s population live beyond U.S. borders. “No way can we consume what we produce ourselves,” he says. “So with no trade about 50% of the farms and ranches are gone.”
He believes the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been good for U.S. farmers and would like to see the country’s next president support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Like many Americans, Samuelson, who voted in his first presidential election in 1952, is disillusioned by the political choice he faces on November 8.
“I will never have had a more difficult election than I am looking at now,” says Samuelson. “Out of 310 million people [the fact] that we couldn’t have found two better people really bothers me and I am particularly bothered about what they say about trade.”
Samuelson notes that Hilary Clinton approved the TPP when she was Secretary of State. “Now that she’s running for president, she wants to renegotiate it.
“Donald Trump is saying ‘I’m against trade agreements and I want to break up NAFTA.’ Well, I think NAFTA has worked pretty well for all three countries since the 1990s,” Samuelson asserts. “I’m really bothered by the candidates not understanding the importance of trade to the entire economy and to agriculture.”
During the interview, Samuelson also shares his growing concern for U.S. consumers’ lack of knowledge of modern agriculture. He says there’s a growing need for farmers and agribusiness to increase understanding of farming methods and technology such as GMOs.
Click here for more World Dairy Expo coverage.