It is no secret that there is an imbalance in U.S. and European Union agricultural trade.

According to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) in Berlin, U.S. food and agricultural exports to the EU have been stagnant over the last five years, while EU exports to the United States have increased by 25 percent.

“The trade imbalance has grown to the point where U.S. imports from the EU are now more than double EU imports from the United States, even though the EU has 200 million more consumers,” noted the FAS. “This is no surprise given that the EU’s average agricultural tariffs are more than double those imposed by the United States — 12.8 percent versus 4.9 percent.”

However, government officials from both entities are working to change the status quo.

During a weeklong trade mission to Germany in November, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts learned of U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grennel’s desire to rebalance trade between the two entities.

Working to build relationships with German firms is key to whittling away at that imbalance, noted Ricketts during the trade mission. For instance, a new trade agreement between Preferred Popcorn of Chapman, Neb., and German-based Haase Food grows the already-established relationship between the two firms. Nebraska is the largest producer of popcorn in the United States with over 353 million pounds of annual production.

Also of note was the new trade agreement between the United States and the EU. Under the agreement, the EU will allow the U.S. to almost triple the amount of beef exported to the region.

In 2005, only five percent of the U.S. beef entering the EU came from Nebraska.

“Nebraska beef represents over 50 percent of the EU market imports, with Nebraska poised to grow our beef exports even more in the future,” noted Nebraska Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman.

There were several opportunities during the trade mission to showcase the quality of Nebraska beef, including a luncheon in Düsseldorf hosted by Ricketts and American Consul General Fiona Evans.

Throughout the trip abroad, Ricketts’ conversations with German ag companies, governmental agriculture officials and German farmers made it clear that German agriculture is facing many of the same challenges being experienced by American producers.

On Sept. 4, German authorities announced that Germany will ban glyphosate effective Dec. 31, 2023.

“Germany’s decision runs counter to scientific studies from both the United States and Europe. In addition to being one of the most widely used herbicides globally, glyphosate is also one of the most rigorously evaluated,” the FAS reported.

Germany isn’t the only EU member to make the change — the Netherlands, France, and Switzerland, all noted they will be banning glyphosate. French President Macron has stated their ban would be effective in 2021, while the Netherlands and Switzerland are looking at 2023, as well.

The action has prompted huge tractorcades in Brussels, Paris and Berlin this fall and early winter that shut down traffic on major thoroughfares near the EU headquarters in Brussels, the Champs de Elysee in Paris and Unter den Linden in Berlin. Younger German farmers, faced with the loss of a vital tool in their agricultural toolbox, have launched a movement called “Grüne Kreuze,” or the Green Cross. They mark their farms with green crosses to symbolize the sacrifice of their livelihoods.

They note, as does the FAS, “Glyphosate bans will not improve food safety, or the safety and sustainability of agricultural practices. Without glyphosate, farmers and communities will gave a harder time managing weeds in a sustainable and efficient manner leading to higher energy use and CO2 emissions This will be coupled with high production costs for smaller harvests.”

While the struggles are real for agriculture, there was much to be positive about, as well.

“I think the headline was that there are numerous opportunities for mutually beneficial relationships between Germany and Nebraska,” said Anthony “Tony” Goins, Nebraska Department of Economic Development director. “I was pleasantly surprised during our week there with the alignment with our value systems. We have similar wants and needs in terms of taking care of our families and communities.”

This was Ricketts’ second trade mission to the European Union (EU) in the last five years and his first to Germany. With Germany the largest economy in the EU, it was important to connect with business and government leaders.

Among the trade mission’s strategic stops in Germany were visits to the international headquarters of Graepel in Loeningen, CLAAS in Harsewinkel, Bayer in Leverkusen and Evonik in Essen.

Graepel and CLAAS both have North American headquarters in Omaha, while Bayer has facilities in Gothenburg, Waco, York, Kearney, Beaver Crossing, Gretna and Omaha, Neb., where the company conducts everything from biotech research to detasseling.

Graepel manufactures perforated metals. Among its products are clean-air intakes for CLAAS combines and John Deere tractors, as well as metal catwalks, stairways and steps, gratings and platforms.

CLAAS is known for combines, forage choppers and more recently tractors, while Evonik has been producing the amino L-lysine at a plant in Blair for about 20 years. It is also part of a joint venture with a Dutch firm at a second plant in Blair, Neb., to produce omega-3 fatty acids for animal nutrition through the cultivation and fermentation of natural marine algae.

The trade mission also gave delegation members the opportunity to promote Nebraska’s quality ag products and thank German companies for creating jobs in Nebraska.

In addition, officials from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discussed research and study abroad opportunities for students and staff and sponsored an alumni gathering in Berlin for UNL graduates.

“Our trade mission was a great success,” Ricketts said. “Nebraskans helped showcase the best of our state for our friends in Germany.”

Barb Bierman Batie can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

Barb is a freelance journalist who grew up near Battle Creek, Nebraska, and now farms row crops with her Platte Valley Farmer, Don Batie, northeast of Lexington. She can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.