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U.S. Agriculture Secretary faces criticism for World Dairy Expo comments

Kaitlyn Riley

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed farmers and agriculture industry leaders at World Dairy Expo Monday

Headlines from an Associated Press story sparked heated conversations in the agriculture industry. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was quoted saying “In America, the big get bigger, and the small go out.”


Reporter: “We’ve seen a lot of loss of small dairy farms. Do you think that loss of small farms is inevitable, or do you think there is something that can stem the flow of that?”

Perdue: “No, I think the 2018 farm bill will stem the flow of that. What we see, obviously, is economy of scale having happened in America. The big get bigger, and the small will go out, and that is what we’ve seen here. It is very difficult with economy of scale and capital needs and all of the environmental regulations and everything else today, to survive milking 40, 50, 60 or even 100 cows, and that’s what we’ve seen. What we’ve seen is the number of farmers go out, but the dairy cows haven’t reduced that much. Those cows have not gone to slaughter. They’ve gone to someone else’s herd for the most part. That just increases the supply of milk which makes the supply-demand balance even exacerbated in that way. I think more dairy farmers will be able to survive with this 2018 Farm Bill and its risk mitigation measures.”

Reporter: “But are they going to survive as they have in the past as small operations, or are they going to have to go big or get out?”

Perdue: “That remains to be seen. Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically of whether they can survive. I don’t think in America for any small business we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability of survival. That depends on each and every farmer and dairy farmer. Farmers are pretty good at managing and managing through tough times. I think those who have survived through the 2014 Farm Bill should do well in the 2018 Farm Bill.”


Several farm organizations and farmers have stepped forward to express their displeasure. The full interview transcription showed Perdue made the comment describing how economy of scale has worked in agriculture. He also expressed hope the 2018 Farm Bill will help farms stay in business.

“I think more dairy farmers will be able to survive with this 2018 Farm Bill and its risk mitigation measures,” Perdue said.

Those remarks were made during a Town Hall meeting at World Dairy Expo in Madison on Tuesday.

Wisconsin Farmers Union released a statement saying, “Secretary Perdue is supposed to represent all U.S. farmers, but I don’t think we saw that.”

While Perdue admitted he did not know what the future of small-scale agriculture will be, he was hopeful the 2018 farm bill could help.

“Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically of whether they can survive,” Perdue said. I don’t think in America for any small business we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability of survival. That depends on each and every farmer and dairy farmer. Farmers are pretty good at managing through tough times. I think those who have survived through the 2014 Farm Bill should do well in the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Many experts in the industry blame poor milk prices on an oversaturated market that continues to grow as farm sizes continue to increase. However, Perdue said he would not support efforts to place supply-management control on the dairy industry. He said the industry must manage its own supply and demand.