Farm Side

By Marianne Friers

An emerging trade deal with China will soon open markets to American beef. Evidently a 2003 ban due to a couple cases of mad cow disease here will finally be lifted.

Interestingly, headlines on many news outlets were all about the chicken, proclaiming in large fonts, “Chinese chicken is headed to America.”

This will no doubt concern American chicken dinner fans and rightly so.

However, if you are a frequent Farm Side reader you know that part of the chicken deal has been being negotiated since at least as long ago as 2006. That was when the USDA began trying to get China certified to process US chicken and ship it back to us, a ridiculous concept in my humble opinion.

Between 2013 and 2014 the USDA did manage to certify four Chinese plants to process American chicken for return here, but it doesn’t seem that any chickens, dead or alive, made the cruise involved in the strange exchange.

This time Chinese-grown chicken has entered the equation, which is scarier than the former plan. At least birds grown here are fed food that is appropriate for them. Remember melamine and dog food?

Now secondary captions on stories about this new deal whine, “It’s all about the beef.”

Must be a whole new idea, exchanging access for US beef for our acceptance of well-traveled chicken products, right? Nope. A 2014 Newsweek article on China protein policy said of the chicken exchange, “When asked about the USDA’s ruling, people in the beef and chicken industries, as well as food activists and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Connecticut, who is fighting to keep Chinese-processed chickens out of school lunches, all told Newsweek that, in DeLauro’s words, “it’s all about the beef.”

However, I guess it is still mostly about the beef, although chicken is certainly on the table.

Some media pundits claim that access to China markets for beef doesn’t mean much anyhow, making up only .01 percent of US economy and only .5 percent of the total trade deficit. Small potatoes right?

I dunno. I think I’d take $2.6 billion worth of small potatoes myself, although as far as I’m concerned China can keep their chicken, cooked or otherwise.

Beef industry spokesfolks are much more excited about the beef and poultry deal, however. An article in Drovers quoted National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Craig Uden, “After being locked out of the world’s largest market for 13 years, we strongly welcome the announcement that an agreement has been made to restore U.S. beef exports to China,” Uden said. “It’s impossible to overstate how beneficial this will be for America’s cattle producers, and the Trump Administration deserves a lot of credit for getting this achieved. We look forward to providing nearly 1.4 billion new customers in China with the same safe and delicious U.S. beef that we feed our families.”

Morning Ag Clips said, “Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross hailed the agreement as ‘a herculean accomplishment’ forged in record time. “This is more than has been done in the whole history of U.S.-China relations on trade,” Ross told reporters Thursday evening at the White House. “Normally trade deals are denominated in multiple years, not tens of days.”

The deal will also open Chinese markets to US liquefied natural gas, as well as removing some barriers to American financial companies. There are, however, questions as to whether any of the agreements will come to pass in reality and whether any of the terms are actually enforceable.

Access to Chinese consumers’ dinner tables for American beef is welcome, especially in light of recent deals with Brazil allowing fresh beef to enter this country from there. The whole chicken thing, not so much. There are simply too many horror stories of adulteration and contamination of food produced in China for me to be comfortable with the thought of eating it. Ever.

On a less global note, the cows at Northview have gone to pasture. Bama Breeze and Neon Moon are at grass today, along with the beef heifer, whose name I don’t remember, more or less on purpose, and much enjoying it. Moon is named after a country song, as were many of our cows back in the day. Bama was named by a science teacher in Florida, who won the honors in a ‘name that calf’ contest back when she was just a little zephyr.

The girls are ten this year, the last remnants of the herd that ruled us for so many long and rewarding years. What a treat to go out just as the sun rises to find them resting calmly, right near the north fence of the old heifer pasture, as close to us as they can get.

With just three cows in all those acres the new spring grass nearly hides them, curving green and thick right up to their shoulders, as they lie out there. One white head and two black ones rise above the burgeoning grass like mongooses on a rock. (Or is it mongeese?)

Above those heads the American Kestrel pair cries ‘killy, killy, killy’ at some imagined intruder. Or maybe at me. They have taken a nest somewhere up there and we often see them tearing up prey on a perch in the dead elm over the spring.

They don’t seem to mind the cows and the girls surely don’t mind them. I wonder though, why do the cows choose to sleep so close to the house? Do they remember coming to the barn to be relieved of their milk and fed delicious grain? Do they feel safer from predators that prowl the dark? The tracks I’ve seen when walking back in the fields speak of coyotes of impressive size.

Or do they just want to be near us, as we have kept them near so as not to be bereft of cows? I can’t answer, but I surely do love to watch them stretch luxuriously and flap their ears, as they rise when they see me.

Fultonville dairy farmer Marianne Friers is a regular columnist. She blogs at http://northvilledairy.blogspot.com.