BERNVILLE, Pa. — To Rep. Dan Meuser, the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico could be a home run for U.S. farmers.

“It’s like a big softball sitting on a tee waiting to be hit,” he said.

Meuser, a Luzerne County Republican, lent his support to the pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and other issues critical to dairy farmers during a visit Tuesday to Way-Har Farms.

The Berks County farm, run by the Lesher family, is known for its farm store and ice cream.

The new trade deal would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, and Meuser is gung-ho to get the revised pact approved.

He said Democrats raised several prerequisites about the bill, including increased labor standards for Mexico and the U.S. repeal of steel and aluminum tariffs.

Those concerns have now been addressed and, Meuser said, it’s up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote on the trade deal.

“If she brings it to the floor, it will pass,” he said.

The trade deal would lower tariffs on U.S. dairy and other products, and it would improve the economy and create jobs, Meuser said.

In the meantime, the Trump administration has announced a second round of direct payments to assist farmers who have lost revenue because of tariffs other countries placed on U.S. ag products in response to the president’s barrage of tariffs last year.

As Meuser explained it, new revenue from the increased tariffs on Chinese goods gave Trump some money to help hard-hit farmers.

“As a businessman and a conservative and all, that’s too much tinkering within our government and our economy, but I can understand it on a short term,” he said.

For the long term, though, direct payments aren’t a solution, he said.

Though the dairy economy has struggled for the last several years, Meuser said he is optimistic about the industry’s future.

Consumers understand the nutritional value of milk, and so do elected officials, he said.

Meuser is one of six representatives from the state who is co-sponsoring fellow Pennsylvanian Rep. Glenn Thompson’s bill to allow schools in the School Lunch Program to serve whole milk.

In the first two years after a 2010 law pulled whole milk off cafeteria trays, the number of students who drank milk at lunch declined by 1.1 million, according to the National Milk Producers Federation.

Even if the bill passes, though, it’s not clear that schools would drop cheaper skim or low-fat milk to offer whole milk.

On the production side, Meuser supports an organized, legal immigration system that helps dairy farmers meet their labor needs.

That includes changing the term of the ag worker visa from one year to three.

But Meuser also agrees with Trump, who campaigned on building new barriers to undocumented immigration.

“I do believe in border security,” Meuser said. “I do believe in the so-called wall, where it is effective.”

Meuser, who was gathering information for the next round of budget negotiations, said he didn’t support any cuts to line items for USDA.

“It plays a very important role in a lot of aspects of an agricultural community,” he said.

Ironically, Meuser, a former state revenue secretary, defeated a Holstein breeder who served as state ag secretary to win his seat in Congress last fall.

Meuser, though, has some dairy experience from visiting his uncle’s farm as a boy.

“My uncle made sure we participated in all the chores that everybody else did, including milking the cows,” he said.

Lancaster Farming