MANHEIM, Pa. — A traveling billboard touting free trade between the U.S., Mexico and Canada pulled into Kreider Farms on Friday, April 12. The billboard was actually a Ford RV plastered on all four sides with facts, figures and slogans for an organization called Farmers For Free Trade.

Kreider Farms was the first stop of a 14-day tour that will cover 3,500 miles and 11 states before ending at the Erickson Farm in Broadview, Montana, on April 26.

Their mission, according to co-executive director Angela Hofmann, is to increase awareness of and support for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the trilateral trade pact currently slogging its way through the legislative process.

Kreider Farms was an appropriate first stop for the tour. The home farm dates to 1736 and today encompasses 3,000 acres with 1,700 dairy cows and 6 million layers. Ron Kreider, with the help of a staff of some 475 people, is in charge of the day-to-day operations.

The dairy operation, Kreider said, while sizable, is small compared to the farm’s egg business, which ranks first in Pennsylvania in annual egg production and 15th in the U.S.

USMCA is often referred to as the new NAFTA. The North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. In his successful campaign for president, Donald Trump pledged to scrap NAFTA and replace it with something better.

USMCA does update some of NAFTA’s provisions, particularly for the automobile industry in the three countries. Most notably for agriculture, it opens more Canadian markets to American milk producers.

In November, President Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed separate copies of the treaty. Before the treaty provisions can be implemented, they must be approved by the U.S. Congress, Canadian Parliament and the Mexican Congress.

As the Farmers For Free Trade crew was packing up after their visit to his farm, Kreider said he was “absolutely” in favor of the new trade deal. He said that while only about 5% of U.S. produced eggs are exported — mostly to Mexico and Canada — even a 1% swing in the export supply-demand equation can have a huge impact on producers’ profits.

Asked if he thought USMCA was a better deal for farmers than NAFTA, Kreider said trade agreements weren’t his area of expertise, but he did think USMCA was more fair to farmers. What he stressed, though, was the need for a stable trade deal, and his hope that a bipartisan effort by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate will get the USMCA ratified.

The U.S. International Trade Commission must initiate the ratification process with a report to the administration and Congress on the treaty’s expected impact on the U.S. economy. The deadline for that report is April 20.

The White House must then submit a proposed bill to Congress authorizing the adoption of the treaty. There is no deadline for that proposed bill, and the legislative process can drag on for months.

Which is where the Farmers For Free Trade RV tour comes in.

According to Hofmann, her organization is aligned with and funded by a number of ag groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation and commodity groups representing producers of pork, corn, wheat, apples and other ag products, plus individual farmers.

Farmers For Free Trade is chartered as a non-profit social welfare organization under IRS regulation 501(c)(4). These organizations may accept donations from any source and may use those funds for lobbying so long as the lobbying activity is related to their reason for being. And 501(c)(4) organizations do not have to reveal the identities of donors, whose donations are not tax deductible.

Hofmann said Farmers For Free Trade is headquartered in Montana and operates with a small staff of about five people. In the lobbying world there are suits and boots.

“We are the boots,” she said.

The RV tour was scheduled to coincide with Congress’ two-week spring break. The plan was to meet with legislators in their home districts to argue the case for the USMCA, and the sooner the better. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, who represents Lancaster and York counties in Congress, was at the Kreider Farms event.

Farmers For Free Trade does have the earmarks of a bipartisan organization. Two former senators share the organization’s chairmanship. They are Democrat Max Baucus of Montana and Republican Richard Lugar of Indiana. The senators were notable for their ability to work across the aisle with each other and their fellow senators.

A passenger for the first leg of the Free Trade RV tour was former Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat from Arkansas. During her Senate career, she chaired that body’s agriculture committee. She had this to say about Farmers For Free Trade:

“Farmers for Free Trade has been working for years to mobilize the voices of farmers to bring attention to the importance of trade to agriculture. During a period of declined farm income and uncertainty due to the trade war, I am especially glad to join the fight in rebuilding bipartisan support for trade.”

Lancaster Farming