Nothing gets my heart beating faster than listening to the roar of horses’ hooves pounding the ground while running along a racetrack. The strong and steady beat as they smoothly gallop along; the cheers of people in the grandstands; and then the loud applause as the winner crosses the finish line. It gets me every time.
Being the vice president of my family’s 54-year-old feed mill in central Kentucky that solely produces feed for horses, you might expect that I have a passion for these animals. Our family’s business has produced feed for 11 of the last 17 Kentucky Derby winners, and to say that we only want to produce the finest feed for them using the most modern and efficient technology would be an understatement.
Like many of the more than 6,200 animal food manufacturing facilities across this country, we work hard every day to produce nutritious and safe food to feed more than 9.6 billion food-producing animals and 144 million dogs and cats annually. In 2016 alone, the animal food manufacturing industry produced more than 236.3 million tons of high-quality food—3.48 million tons of that in my home state of Kentucky—for livestock and poultry, helping keep these animals happy and healthy while maintaining a wholesome and abundant food supply for Americans.
This industry, which I am proud to be part of, is not only the backbone of American agriculture, but vital to our economy. A recent study by Decision Innovation Solutions, on behalf of the Institute for Feed Education and Research, found that the animal food manufacturing industry generated $297.1 billion in U.S. sales in 2016, including roughly $102 billion in benefits to associated industries, such as the transportation sector. It employed more than 944,000 people that year—paying nearly $56 billion in wages—and contributed roughly $22.5 billion in cumulative local, state and federal taxes.
Although the demand for animal food is strong and expected to thrive, many challenges remain that are making it more difficult to manufacture not only safe and high-quality food, but affordable food, and threaten the future of the animal food manufacturing business.
For better or worse, the Trump administration has shaken up Washington. As a businessman, I know how important it is to cut the things that aren’t working and focus on the strategies that will yield the best results. I commend the administration for putting America first, but caution that just like you can’t stop a galloping horse well on its way to the finish without causing long-term injury, you should not halt or reverse policies that are beneficial to American agriculture.
Last year, the American agricultural community chanted, “do no harm,” to the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement until it was practically blue in the face. We are already feeling the negative impacts of the United States’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and know that stepping away from NAFTA would result in an even bigger blow to our industry.
Mexico and Canada represent America’s largest and second largest export markets, respectively, for animal feed, feed ingredients and pet food. In fact, since NAFTA’s implementation in 1994, animal food exports to Canada and Mexico have almost tripled, growing from $764 million in 1994 to $3 billion in 2016. Pet food exports to the two countries represent over 50 percent of the total U.S. pet food global exports.
Much of these successes are a direct result of the tariff-free access the United States enjoys among the two countries. Without it, tariffs on exports to Mexico, and likely Canada as well, would revert to WTO rules, meaning several feed products would no longer enjoy zero tariffs. Withdrawing from this agreement with two of our most valuable trade partners would be devastating, for the American feed industry and for American agriculture.
I believe, and I’m sure others within the industry would agree, that we reap what we sow. My eyes are set on the future—doing more with less, keeping American agriculture humming and horses running, and leaving the world a better place for my kids and future generations. This administration needs to get back in the saddle and finish the race on NAFTA before its political posturing fails American agriculture.
About the author: Lee Hall is vice president of Hallway Feeds and board chairman of American Feed Industry Association.