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Lately, trade agreements between nations have been in the news almost every day. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been leading the way.

A couple of weeks ago, when President Trump spoke to the American Farm Bureau Federation, trade talks and especially NAFTA were front and center. When President Trump was elected, one of his campaign promises was to do away with all trade agreements and negotiate unilaterally or one-on-one with each country. In President Trump’s life as a developer, that was most likely how he did business, and of course, it’s a lot like how you and I do business.

Speaking to the American Farm Bureau, President Trump said all the right words. He praised the job American agriculture was doing and seemed to understand American agriculture. We appreciate that.

When one talks of agriculture trade between countries, it’s a complex discussion. When that discussion is about NAFTA, it really gets complex. Canada and Mexico are our neighbors, and we do a ton of business with both countries. They both buy a lot of grain from America, and we also sell them a lot of cars and other products, too. On the ag side, we send both countries tons of pork, even though the U.S. also just allowed Mexico to export pork here. That decision was based on Mexican pork health issues.

America used to export more cattle to Mexico and Canada, but that has changed. We are now a large net importer. In 2017, total imports of Mexican cattle were 1.057 million head. That represents a 12 percent increase from 2016. In addition, the U.S. imported an additional 602,000 head of cattle from Canada. When we total both cattle and beef, the U.S. ran a negative trade balance with NAFTA of around $1.8 billion.  This number does not include variety meats, hides or any other such products. A lot of hides do go to Mexico for tanning, and almost all cattle coming from Mexico are feeder cattle to Texas and New Mexico, along with a few roping steers.

Say you are involved in Nebraska agriculture, where most of the grain and oilseeds produced go to Mexico and Canada, but not many head of cattle do. How does your governor lobby for NAFTA? The products have to be broken apart.

They say Mexico will not be so hard to negotiate with, but Canada will be tough. A while back, Canada filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) over tariffs from the Trump administration just before talks were started. That action didn’t set the stage for good negotiations. The 32-page complaint referenced close to 200 examples of alleged American transgressions against Canada and other countries. The WTO has never been a big fan of the U.S., so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

There is no doubt we do need NAFTA and other trade agreements, but they have to be fair to all. We send a lot of cars to Mexico and Canada, but a good deal of the parts for those cars come from not only Canada and Mexico but from around the world. I read where there are now more Cadillacs sold in China now than in the U.S.

It’s a new time out there, and we have to take care of ourselves and negotiate trade agreements product by product.

Lately, it seems like the news is full of positive stories. One has to be careful about talking about all the good news, fearing that we may sabotage our good luck. I’ve always thought positives were opportunities and that you wouldn’t recognize a positive unless you had a negative to compare it to.

In the business of agriculture, we always have enough negatives.

Except for last week, the cattle prices have been good. Wool is good, too, I understand. The price of oil keeps going up, which is not good when we buy gasoline at the pump, but it has saved the state. I would rather pay a little more for gasoline than have to pay a higher tax on property.

In fact, the big news for Wyoming last week was the state Consensus Revenue Estimating Group (CREG) reported Wyoming has around $141 million more in its accounts than was predicted. Don’t we all wish that would happen in our personal bank accounts, too?

The brightest picture came from predictions of sales and use tax collections. This shows Wyoming has reversed its downward trend and is moving upward at a faster rate than predicted. Along with the state, that $12.6 million is good for our towns and counties.

Increased mining activity should show gains in severance taxes and federal mineral royalties of around $13.3 million for the fiscal year of 2018. Altogether, this increased mining activity shows an estimated $33.4 million available for K-12 education in the 2019-20 biennium. The budget for education is where our state is really hurting.

As stated, oil has been up to around $64 a barrel, and we all realize how much oil and natural gas help Wyoming’s budgets. These minerals not only help the state budgets but also the state’s savings and rainy-day accounts. We already have double the number of drilling rigs in the state compared to a year ago. These drilling rigs not only help the local economies but also prove to pump more oil.

Getting back to meat, Americans are eating more meat. Demand for beef is up as are exports for beef. The meatpackers are showing strong demand for beef, and fed cattle supplies are tight.

How about the rising stock market? It is going crazy. We’ll have a correction sometime, but enjoy it as it keeps rising. The stock market, along the recent tax bill Congress passed and President signed, are both good signs.

A study showed steak consumption is often linked to a rising stock market. We hope they both keep going up. We hope for a rising stock market, cold weather back east for increased energy use and no tax increases here in Wyoming. Those are some more positives.

Inserted into this week’s Roundup is our annual Winter Cattlemen’s Edition. We focused on farms, ranches and ag businesses in western Nebraska. As you know, agriculture is big business in western Nebraska, and we’re proud to showcase it. We hope you will enjoy reading the edition and finding something new to remember about the people and places. We certainly enjoyed meeting the people of western Nebraska.

Reading through Drovers Magazine a while back, I came across some really disturbing news out of Great Britain, where an investor group wants the government to place a sin tax on meat.

It has also popped up here in America, as animal rights groups and vegetarian groups, all against meat as a protein source, keep bringing up the cause. I guess they think if they keep bringing the issue up time and time again, we will start to believe it.

The Great Britain group is called the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR). That’s quite a name, but this investment group is reported to be worth around $4 trillion in capital. Their main mission is to place factory farming on the agenda. Well, thank God, they’re in Great Britain. We do need to be concerned, though, as there are some organizations in America with lots of dollars that wish to protect all animals and are against eating meat.

As I see it, FAIRR’s main threat is they place meat in the same category as liquor, tobacco, carbon emissions and sugar. They see all of those products as creating human health issues. But you know, it’s all how you use it or consume it, because anything can be a human health issue if consumed or used wrong.

In Europe, a tax on meat is also being discussed by Germany, Denmark and Sweden, and in 2016, the country of China officially reduced its recommended national meat consumption by 45 percent.

Jeremy Coller, the founder of FAIRR and the chief investment officer at the private equity firm Coller Capital, said, “If policymakers are to cover the true cost of human epidemics like obesity, diabetes and cancer and livestock epidemics like avian flu while also tracking the twin challenges of climate change and antibiotic resistance, then a shift from subsidization to taxation of the meat industry looks inevitable. Far-sighted investors should plan ahead for this day.”

Man, this guy would give Al Gore a run for his money.

Also, major news outlets have jumped on the cause with headlines like, “Meat tax inevitable to beat climate and health crises,” “Sin taxes on meat to fight climate change and protect human health” and “Move over, taxes on carbon and sugar, the global levy that may be next is meat.”

The people who believe in all this garbage are also against countries that are growing or developing and their citizens, who are enjoying higher incomes and buying, among other products, fresh meat. FAIRR members and others are all in favor of not having any uses for lands except wildlife habitat. 

It seems strange that people think like this. Even in arid places like the western United States, one has to manage the lands and whatever grazes those lands or we get into trouble. The people pushing this issue must have never eaten a good steak or lamb chop. I can’t imagine having a sin tax on a hamburger or a hot dog – or any meat for that matter. I’m not so against placing a sin tax on chicken, but a lot of people make a living on chicken, so it’s not so bad either, I guess. 

As we are finishing up the last of the Christmas cookies and candy, we’re thinking about a new diet to go along with getting more exercise for the new year. We’ll get to those new plans as soon as the cookies and candy are all gone.

As usual this time of year, we’re also all thinking ahead to the coming year and wondering what cattle, sheep, hay and crop prices will be. I’ve given up predicting prices for commodities as, after 50 years, I have a worse record of predicting than most weather people. But it's fun to read and hear what others have to say is going to happen in 2018.

It seems things changing more and faster these days. I guess it’s because everyone is always holding a smartphone in their hand. All information is instant, as is getting or buying what we want. Getting new clothes, food for tomorrow’s dinner, a new car, gifts for someone or just doing business can all happen in no time over your smartphone. A conversation is one line in a text or a statement in just a tweet. A visit is waving hello to a neighbor.

As with everything, there is good in the new ways. As I mentioned above, online food sales are booming, and in those meal kits delivered to your door, we find beef. The beef checkoff is working closely with those providing the meal kits and the consumers ordering them. They realize that not being able to see the meat product at the meat counter can be an issue, so in explaining the meat product in the meal kit, they have to use sensory words and adjectives to entice consumers with beef in their food descriptions. It is sort of like selling beer in an advertisement during a football game on television. Whatever beer they are selling looks to be the best there is. The same thing goes for beef – it’s what’s for dinner, you know.

But, as with the bottle of beer, the beef product has to be consistently great quality or the consumer will drop it as a food item. To ensure a good experience with the beef product, step-by-step instructions for cooking are included in the meal kit, along with all the nutrition information, safe handling instructions and expiration date information. Beef works great for not only hamburger and steaks but also hot dishes, stir fry and kebabs. These meal kits are designed to be prepared in 30 to 40 minutes.   

I guess we all grew up with meal kits. We just didn’t know it. It was called Mom’s imagination, and this is just the modern version.

Whatever meat we raise, whether its beef, lamb, pork or something else, in raising that product, we need to be aware that it may end up in someone’s meal kit. It also needs to be the best quality we can produce so the consumer has a great experience enjoying their dinner and will purchase it again. We have to keep the quality of our meat product in mind the whole time it is in our control, and we have to still keep quality in mind beyond the time we drop the gate on the truck at shipping. It’s our future.