Assuming you produce superior product is dangerous

Never believe your own BS.

That’s something our American friends in agriculture need to focus on right now, in this time of fake news and Trumpian bravado.

But it’s also something we need to keep in mind in our own Canadian trade and policy debates. Today’s absurdities emanating from the White House may offer a stark example of the dangers of BS in policy and politics, but we’re not immune to the phenomenon.

Fortunately for Canada, most significant U.S. farmers and agriculture interests don’t buy into President Donald Trump’s belief that trade wars are “good, and easy to win.”

They’re busily lobbying their politicians to restrain the White House from its extreme trade provocations and screaming loudly enough that Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has unveiled a US $12 billion aid package to cover the impact of Trump’s trade wars on U.S. farmers such as soybean and pig producers.

But they’re not screaming loudly enough, especially if this aid package placates farmers long enough for the trade war to become protracted. These situations have a way of becoming wars of attrition.

A number of times this spring when I was in the United States, I got the sense from producers and some analysts that many Americans accept the claim that Trump is a “master negotiator” who is just creating drama so that he can force deals on U.S. terms. As a result, they don’t think the situation will last.

But there’s no reason to believe that. I’m happy to call it BS — and dangerous BS. Trump has no history of resolving anything, so to pin any hopes to his “art of the deal” is foolish.

There was also what I call “compensatory BS” floating around among some American farmers who dread, fear and oppose these trade wars but are willing to believe that the damage won’t be as great as many fear.

I heard U.S. pork industry people seriously discussing whether the “best in the world” quality of U.S. pork would offset the impact of import tariffs from countries like China.

Excuse me?

I’ve been covering the world pork industry for a long time, and I’ve never heard until now that U.S. pork is the world’s best. Some of it could be equal to Danish or Canadian pork, I’m sure, but I don’t think many outside the U.S. pork industry would consider U.S. pork to be generally superior to any of its major competitors.

If American hog producers are being calmer about Trump’s impact on pork export prospects because they think they’ll be able to lie back and rely on superior-to-everybody quality, they’re likely to have a nasty surprise coming.

But that’s where we’ve got to be careful up in Canada, too, because we often make the same claims about our farm products. Our pork producers believe they produce the best pork in the world.

Our grain growers think the same.

Our supply management people regularly claim to provide higher quality products than what is produced in free market systems.

How much of that is true? Is this also what other countries’ farmers and agriculture industries tell themselves?

Does that get in the way of an honest examination of our industries, our systems, our skills and our performance?

What are we basing these beliefs upon? Do we ever go out and check their veracity?

If we’re believing things just because we honestly believe them, without ground-truthing them, then we’re surrendering to a form of BS. It’s not as dangerous as Trump’s, but it can also misdirect and lead us in the wrong direction and away from tackling problems that we should be able to see.

Trump’s BS is damaging to everybody, including both U.S. and Canadian farmers. But if it spurs us to take another look at some of our own comfy assumptions, perhaps we’ll get some small compensation for our woes.

And that’s no BS.

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