Sen. Durbin: NAFTA transformed agriculture

The Springfield Democrat tells farmers he 'worries' about the impact some actions could have on agricultural trade.

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U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin addresses IFB’s Annual Meeting in Chicago on Monday.

By Mike Orso

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Springfield, took a combine ride on Gerald Thompson’s central Illinois farm during harvest a year ago – and he’s still talking about it.

In the early 1990s when serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Durbin said some farmers near Marine invited him to see GPS at work to help ensure more precise application of crop-protection products.

“It didn’t work,” Durbin told Illinois Farm Bureau members serving as voting delegates to the group’s annual meeting in Chicago. “By the time I got up on Gerald’s John Deere, things had changed dramatically.”

Durbin acknowledged the competitiveness of Illinois farmers not only depends on changing technology, but markets to sell their products.

Durbin takes a combine for a spin on a central Illinois farm last year.
Durbin takes a combine for a spin on a central Illinois farm last year.

“What I found out when I voted for NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), was that it was going to transform agriculture both in Mexico and in the United States,” said Durbin. “We’ve seen dramatic increases in demand for product in the United States.”

A recent American Farm Bureau Federation analysis of NAFTA, which the Trump administration continues to renegotiate, shows:

- Combined, Canada and Mexico account for about one-third of U.S. agricultural exports.

- Since NAFTA implementation, agricultural exports to Canada and Mexico have increased more than 300 percent from pre-NAFTA levels.

- Through September, exports to Mexico are up 6 percent over year-ago levels and total NAFTA exports are up 3 percent.

“I worry about this whole notion that we somehow can just kind of close down the shop and stop exporting in America,” Durbin told Illinois farmers and other guests at the IFB meeting. “We’ve got important things that we need to do, and it means promoting global markets.”

Related: Click here for more from the IFB Annual Meeting.

On Monday, the nearly 350 IFB voting delegates unanimously approved a resolution in support of NAFTA. It states the organization remains “vigilant in our strong and vocal defense of NAFTA, supportive of the effort to modernize and improve the trade agreement, and insistent in our deep belief that free trade is critical to improving the economic well-being of Illinois agriculture.”

Durbin, whom U.S. Senate Democrats elected as its ‘whip’ to be responsible for counting heads and rounding up party members for votes and quorum calls, said Farm Bureau’s position on trade agreements “needs to be respected.”

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