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Comment: Don’t bet on perceptions

Perception or reality, it’s hard to figure out which we are dealing with as we prepare to exist with a U.S. headed by Donald J. Trump.

He’s bound to influence whatever plans you are making for 2017 and the next four years. But at this point it’s pretty hard to assess what he will do after he becomes President.

He’s already said he will serve notice of intent to withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership, and instead negotiate terms that favour the U.S. in bilateral trade deals with other countries. That apparently works well as a slogan but gives very little in the way of detail. Again we have a perception of what he will do but the reality is yet to come.

The same strategy is being used on the North American Free Trade Agreement. He’s said he will renegotiate it, but no explanation, no detail, just the slogan. That has caused the mainstream media and trade policy wonks to thrash through every bit of conflicting advice he receives, or what they believe he is receiving, to gain some sense of which way he will jump. You can turn yourself into an Internet hermit trying to read all the things being said and written about Donald J., or his transition teams and their advisers. At the end of it I suspect you will be none the wiser, just tired.

Then there’s that sneaky reference in a transition memo to reinstate country-of-origin labelling. That alone caused the majority of the livestock industry on both sides of the border to cough up a lung.

A costly program that provides nothing Americans want but drains millions from the bottom line, and quite a few jobs in the process. Does that sound like the result Donald J. is aiming for? Not if he is really interested in driving business and profits in the U. S. of A.

There I go again, leaning on my own perceptions. If the worst case scenario unfolds and Donald instructs his agriculture secretary to put COOL in play to gain some leverage in NAFTA negotiations, Canada can pull out its WTO order allowing us to slap $1 billion in retaliatory tariffs on any U.S. products being imported to Canada. I for one am happy that the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and the rest of the livestock industry rejected a call by the USDA, and some in our government, to withdraw Canada’s WTO complaint against the U.S. after the legislation was rescinded.

Surely, we will never have to use it, but if we do, it’s still valid and ready to be adopted whenever COOL reappears.

Perhaps by the time Canada Post gets around to delivering this issue to your mailbox we will have seen sufficient tweets and YouTube blurbs from Donald J. to have a better sense of what is coming. But for now, as 2016 winds to a close, all we can say for sure is that the U.S. is about to take a big step to the right. How far, is yet to be determined.

There is nothing to be gained by making decisions based on perceptions that may well be wrong.

University of Saskatchewan forage breeder Bruce Coulman gave a pretty good example of what that can lead to at the Canadian Forage & Grassland Association conference in Winnipeg last month.

Back in the 1970s when he was just beginning his career as a forage breeder, working with breeders like Bob Knowles, Coulman recalled a prevailing attitude among the upper crust in Agriculture Canada that the money they’d been putting into forage research was not showing any results. Nothing much seemed to change. So budget after budget, the money slowly drifted out of forage. When a breeder retired, the funds simply went elsewhere.

The reality, however, couldn’t have been more different. Things were changing, albeit fairly slowly, thanks in part to research done by this dwindling band of enthusiastic scientists. Just during his career from the 1970s to the present we’ve seen the introduction of new and hybrid grasses, the adoption of big bales for hay, and for silage using bags, and later plastic wrap, and more recently an explosion in new ways to extend the grazing season in the West, with a major reduction in winter feeding costs. All of it ushered in by forage researchers whose numbers had shrunk from over 20 in 1980 to just a handful by 2010.

Fortunately the industry started to push back shortly thereafter and today forage researchers, most of them trained abroad, are again being hired in Canada. In their future Coulman foresees the adoption of bloat-free alfalfa, more non-bloating legumes, and improved varieties released more rapidly with the aid of genetic analysis.

We can only imagine where we would be today, if the Ag Canada mavens had waited for reality to make itself known rather than react to their perceptions of what was happening in the countryside.

As for Donald J. Trump, don’t waste your energy worrying about what will happen, the reality will find us soon enough after January 20.

In the meantime, we at Cattlemen wish you and yours and very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

About the author


Gren Winslow

Gren Winslow is a past editor of Canadian Cattlemen.

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