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December market report: What if NAFTA blows up?

Without a doubt, the American dairy industry has benefited greatly since NAFTA became effective in 1994. In fact, agriculture in the U.S. has been the biggest beneficiary of the deal. But President Donald Trump’s pledge to renegotiate NAFTA shortly after he took office put its future in sudden limbo.

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After months of relative stability in the market, nonfat dry milk prices plummeted five cents in nine days in October. Normally, this is the time to make holiday orders and prepare for next year’s contracts. That activity sends signals to the market responsible for its cyclical wintertime peak. But none of those signals has come.

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The beginning of October is a key time in the dairy industry as buyers start placing holiday orders and markets begin to move the way we always expect them to ahead of a more festive time of year. But a mild summer kept milk supplies longer than normal deeper into the season. Even rallying butter prices lost their momentum. Will a somewhat strange end to the summer lead to any surprises in markets toward the tail end of this year?

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It’s early fall. That typically means dairy markets begin tightening up as milk production wanes post-flush; normally, draw-downs start on inventories built in spring and summer. But this time around, something is off. The only remarkable thing about dairy markets right now is how unremarkable they are. What’s the deal?

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