May 22, 2024

A Year in the Life of a Farmer: Mexico corn conundrum worries farmer

AgriNews will follow Matt Rush throughout the entire year. Each month, look for updates about the farmer and the decisions he makes on his farm.

FAIRFIELD, Ill. — Matt Rush is weeks away from planting his 2023 crops of soybeans and corn.

He and his father, Jim, still have some inputs to purchase for their 2023 crops, but the bulk of what will go in the ground, including the corn and soybean seed, is a done deal.

“I make my seed purchasing decisions in October and November of the year before I’m going to plant,” said Rush, the president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association.

That’s why the uncertainty around a proposed ban by Mexico of genetically modified corn worries Rush.

On Dec. 31, 2020, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a decree calling for a ban on GM corn by January 2024.

That decree sent shockwaves through the U.S. agriculture community, since Mexico is consistently a major customer for U.S. corn. That fact is not lost on farmers like Matt Rush.

“Mexico, four out of the last five years, has been our top export customer for corn. So, that is a huge deal,” Rush said.

On Feb. 13, Mexico backed down from the 2024 deadline to ban the use of GM corn for feed and industrial use. However, the country maintained the proposed ban on GM corn for human consumption.

U.S. ag groups and farm-state lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to take action, under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, known as the USMCA.

On Feb. 23, U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking to reporters at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum, said the United States would be ready to activate the dispute settlement process under the USMCA if Mexico does not change its stance.

“This is not a situation that lends itself to a compromise. From our perspective, you are talking about a fundamental principle to understanding trade, which is that you need a science-based, rules-based system. If you begin to inject things that are not scientific or that are not supported by science, it’s a very slippery slope,” Vilsack said.

Rush said that he and other farmers will grow what the market demands.

But he questioned whether the proposed ban is coming from the people and companies that use corn and products made from it or whether it is a political move.

“If the people and the companies in Mexico say they want non-GMO corn, that’s fine. But for a decree from the government, do the people really want that?” he asked.

The enormous uncertainty surrounding the proposed ban, what it will include, when it will go into effect, even if it will go into effect, is concerning for Rush and something he is ready to see end.

“The decree came out and then they came out with an update two weeks ago. There’s just a lot of uncertainty in the market and uncertainty in the market is not good for anybody,” Rush said.

“The USMCA is in place for issues like this. We need to get the Biden administration to see out the USMCA settlement dispute to bring certainty back to the market.”

Lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle agree.

Five congressional representatives from Illinois — including Democrats Nikki Budzinski and Bill Foster and Republicans Mike Bost, Darin LaHood and Mary Miller — sent a letter on March 1 urging U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and U.S. Trade Chief Agricultural Negotiator Doug McKalip to keep all options on the table regarding the proposed GM corn ban by Mexico.

“While substantial progress has been made, we remain concerned that Mexico’s unscientific approach to GM corn would severely impact our local farmers and set a harmful precedent,” the group said in the letter.

“Mexico’s failure to live up to its transnational commitments would negatively impact the Illinois corn industry and we urge you to take every step necessary to resolve this situation amicably.

“We request a full update on the ongoing negotiations with Mexico on this subject, and given this decision is clearly inconsistent with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, we ask all enforcement mechanisms remain on the table.”

Jeannine Otto

Jeannine Otto

Field Editor