Knutson: Trump-tariff piece draws differing responses

Agweek reporter Jonathan Knutson interviews assistant state climatologist Daryl Ritchison during the 2016 Best of the Best in Wheat and Soybean Research conference at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks on Feb. 4, 2016. Nick Nelson / Forum News Service

I’ll talk about agriculture with anyone. And I’m proud and pleased to have talked with Ray Goldberg, a North Dakota native, Harvard professor emeritus and a co-coiner of the term “agribusiness” in 1957.

Goldberg, whom I knew by reputation but never met, phoned me recently about my column on President Trump’s trade war. The column’s three main points: U.S. farmers and global consumers are suffering from it; partisan politics are too influential; and more Americans need to understand the importance of comparative advantage, the economic principle that says countries should specialize in producing what they’re comparatively best at.

Goldberg, who lives in Boston but had seen the column, said he liked it and agreed with my thoughts on comparative advantage.

The Fargo native has had a remarkable career. According to his online Harvard biography: Among many other things, he was a co-developer of the agribusiness program at Harvard Business School; served on more than 40 boards of directors of farm cooperatives, technology firms and major agribusiness firms; and advised financial institutions on their agribusiness investments.

In 1957, Goldberg, then a young Harvard Business School lecturer, and a colleague, John H. Davis, came up with “agribusiness,” according to information from Harvard.

The term was defined then as “the growing interdependence of agriculture and the industries that supply agriculture, and that process and distribute the products of agriculture.”

Today, the concept is so basic that it’s taken for granted by most of us in ag. But in 1957, it was an important, useful recognition of the increasing overlap between agriculture and business.

In our phone conversation, Goldberg, now 92, displayed a still-vital mind and ongoing desire to fight the good fight for ag. Complimenting my column wasn’t the only reason he called: He said he’s written a book on food citizenship in which he examines successful collaboration and partnerships in our modern food system, and asked if I’d be interested in seeing it.

I said I would. He said he’ll send me a copy. I’ll look it over after it arrives and possibly write about it in a personal column or news article.

Goldberg also told me that three people featured in the book are native North Dakotans. I won’t identify them here, except to say that each is a heavy-hitter in agriculture and that I’ve interviewed all three.

Another reaction

After my column ran in Agweek, I was invited to discuss it on a radio talk show. With the approval of Agweek management, I did so. On the live show I tried, to the best of my very limited verbal ability, to explain why exports are so important to U.S. farmers and how our ag producers are being hurt by the Trump tariffs.

Near the show’s end, there was a segment for listeners to call in and ask questions. One listener — who I assume is a strong Trump supporter — did so. The phone connection wasn’t the best and I had trouble hearing him. But as far as I could tell, his question to me was, “What hole did you crawl out?”

Well, OK. Fortunately we live in a free country and can express our views, though, sadly, not always with basic civility. I would add that a) my name and contact information are attached to everything I write and b) I try very hard to use facts and logic, not insults, to advance positions that I think benefit U.S. agriculture, our society and the global economy.

In any case, my Trump tariffs column generated strong, opposing responses. The talk show caller didn’t like it, Ray Goldberg did.

I’m fine with that.