WASHINGTON – President Trump is getting an earful these days about all the troubles in Western New York's farm country.
Maureen Torrey, a Genesee County farmer, met with the president at the White House this week during an agricultural roundtable – and told Trump all about the labor shortages local farmers are experiencing.
And a day later, Rep. Chris Collins sent a letter to Trump to thank him for expressing his concerns about a growing trade dispute between the United States and Canada over the milk trade.
In the letter, Collins and 67 other House members from both parties asked Trump to take swift action against the Canadian dairy industry's effort to stop U.S. dairy producers from selling a key product north of the border.
Trump has taken an unusual early interest in agriculture, an issue that many presidents leave to the agriculture secretary. Torrey said she couldn't recall another president since Ronald Reagan inviting farmers to the White House to talk about agricultural problems the way Trump did this week.
"It was very exciting," she said of the 45-minute meeting in the White House Roosevelt Room. "I felt very honored to be able to represent agriculture."
Torrey, who runs a 12th-generation vegetable farm based in Elba but with operations in five Western New York counties, has been active in federal farm issues for two decades. But she said she was still surprised to get a call from a White House staffer inviting her to the roundtable to represent farmers from the Northeast in the meeting with Trump.
"I talked to him about labor and the people who work on our farms and their availability," she said.
She noted that farmers face an overwhelming federal paperwork burden in trying to win visas for temporary farm workers from other countries.
"It's one of the things that hinders the next generation from wanting to come back and take over the family farms."
She said Trump appeared heavily engaged and knowledgeable about farm issues. At the start of the meeting, Trump signed an executive order that sets up an interagency task force aimed at promoting agriculture and rural development. Led by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the task force is set to deliver a report within 180 days.
"With this order, I’m directing Secretary Purdue to work with other members of my cabinet to identify and eliminate unnecessary regulations that hurt our nation's farmers and rural communities,” Trump said.
Trump also has been heavily engaged in the dairy controversy between the United States and Canada. The dispute stems from a Canadian dairy industry action that essentially prices American companies out of the Canadian market for ultra-filtered milk, which is used to make cheese and yogurt.
In their letter to Trump, Collins and the other lawmakers – including Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning – told Trump to keep up the fight on behalf of U.S. dairy producers.
"We write to thank you for your recent acknowledgement of Canada’s protectionist dairy policies and urge your administration to take swift action to hold Canada to its trade commitments in this area," the lawmakers wrote.
Collins said he wanted the president to know how important the dairy industry is to Western New York and other regions around the country.
"The U.S. dairy industry supports billions of dollars in exports and hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs," Collins said. "Unfortunately, due to unfair competitive practices by Canada, we must take action to ensure our dairy products will be able to compete on a level playing field."
Story topics: Shared