Small farmers and their allies are responding to comments the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture made this week that suggested only big farms are likely to survive.
“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Sonny Perdue told a gathering of dairy farmers in Wisconsin. He added that even 100 cows might not be enough to turn a profit. The comments come at a time when dairy farmers across the country, but especially in the upper Midwest, are struggling.
University of Illinois agriculture policy professor Jonathan Coppess found the comment “shocking.”
“Those farmers have just… they've really gone through it. And the kind of bankruptcies you're seeing and what's happening in that industry… you'd like to see a little more empathy,” he said.
The number of dairy farms continues to fall, though the 2018 Farm Bill completely overhauled federal dairy assistance and the new program has paid out more than $300 million to more than 20,000 farmers this year.
Rob Larew, vice president for public policy at the National Farmers Union, called the comment “disappointing,” especially since the current dairy system has no way to manage oversupply.
“And so we end up with exceedingly low prices and loss of farms,” Larew said, “and so it seems a very curious comment to make to dairy farmers at this particular time.”