My family has been farming Harrison County since 1840. For us, cattle farming is not an occupation—it’s a way of life. It requires early mornings, a strong back and—more than anything else—grit.
Any farmer will tell you we are used to dealing with peaks and valleys. One day, commodities are trading high, weather is cooperating, and life is good. But you never know what tomorrow will bring, and in the blink of an eye our fortunes could be drastically altered.
Because of this volatility, farmers like me need President Donald Trump to pull back on his trade standoff with China and secure a new North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico (NAFTA)—moves that can help stabilize our future.
At Guernsey Farms, we’re used to uncertainty. A few years ago, we had to leave the dairy business entirely because market conditions created an environment in which we simply could not turn a profit. However, we never considered letting these challenges stop us from continuing our nearly two-century-long legacy of family farming. Today, my grandpa sells cattle on the traditional beef market for consumption while my father, siblings, and I raise and sell bulls to other operations to help them grow their herds.
However, the outlook for rural America and many of my farming peers is not so bright. Farm income has decreased by 52% since 2013. Rural America’s job market is smaller than it was prior to the Great Recession, and one in three rural counties has a poverty rate of 20% or more.
Now, as tensions between the U.S. and China continue to escalate, the future of critical trade deals like the NAFTA are more important than ever. Without NAFTA, our ability to sell homegrown goods to key markets around the world hangs in the balance.
We recognize and appreciate Trump’s commitment to protect American interests through trade and are fully aware that China is a bad actor on many fronts. Two out of three farmers and ranchers like myself voted for Trump precisely because of his promises to stand up for people like us. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of the president’s recent trade actions are already being felt among his most loyal supporters across the heartland.
For me, this translates to a decrease in my customers’ ability to sell beef to China—a ripe market that buys about $2.5 billion worth of beef from its trading partners annually. Because of that, my customers may not need my family’s bulls for their herds. The end result is a drag on the market and an additional strain on the rural economies that are already struggling.
While Chinese trade retaliation is a serious threat, a failure to secure a new and updated NAFTA agreement will be a nightmare. Canada and Mexico represent the second- and third-largest markets for U.S. agriculture exports, respectively. Failing to come to an agreement to maintain and update this historically successful trade agreement would be the biggest mistake of the Trump presidency and achieve the opposite of his signature promise to make America great again.
Trump recently told us everything would be fine, saying farmers “will be better off than they ever were.” But that doesn’t change the reality of this situation—these tariffs represent a looming threat to the entire agricultural economy. Our jobs are at stake.
The president’s encouraging comments remind me of the old adage: Actions speak louder than words. We appreciate his support, and we’re eagerly awaiting action. For now, though, these words of encouragement are not going to help my father and me sell even 15 head of cattle to an increasingly shrinking market. And these words alone are not going to help us create jobs or bring back the promise of rural America. Securing a better NAFTA deal will.
Part of the reason people like me stand by Trump is because of his willingness to move past empty rhetoric and take bold action. By preventing an all-out trade war with China and finalizing a new NAFTA deal, the president’s bold actions will prove to one of his most loyal cohorts that our trust was not misplaced.
Casey Guernsey is a seventh-generation farmer, former Missouri state legislator, and chairman of the Agri-Business Committee. Guernsey is a spokesperson for an effort called “Retaliation Hurts Rural Families,” an Americans for Farmers & Families project focused on ensuring rural voices are heard and helping the Trump administration understand the impact of tariffs on rural communities.