But it made some national news today, when US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue addressed the Expo. And it wasn’t good news, as Perdue basically shrugged at the many struggles that Wisconsin dairy farmers have had in recent years.
"Now what we see, obviously, is economies of scale having happened in America — big get bigger and small go out. ... It's very difficult on economies of scale with the capital needs and all the environmental regulations and everything else today to survive milking 40, 50, 60 or even 100 cows, and that's what we've seen."That’s nice to hear from the GOP, isn’t it? Yep, definitely the party of “The Forgotten Man of small-town America.” (slams head on table).
Perdue made his comments after holding a town hall meeting with farmers and dairy industry officials at the kickoff of the annual World Dairy Expo at Madison's Alliant Energy Center….
Though prices have improved some in recent months, Wisconsin has still been losing more than two dairy farms a day this year, wreaking havoc on the rural economy. Many families exhausted their savings and credit to remain in business, and they eventually had to shut down their milking operation to cut their losses.
"What we've seen is the number of dairy farmers go out, but the dairy cows haven't reduced that much. The dairy cows haven't gone to slaughter. They've gone to someone else's herd for the most part," Perdue said. "That just increases the supply of milk, which makes the supply-demand balance even exacerbated in that way."
What the Trump Administration is basically telling family farmers that they have to grow bigger or else they can’t survive. Which means going into further debt in a time when many don’t have enough money going in to make ends meet as it is.
Needless to say, this recommendation by the Ag Secretary did not go over well with Wisconsin Dems in DC
It’s no wonder 1,700 Wisconsin dairy farms have gone out of business since Trump took office. The administration’s advice to family dairy farms that are struggling & working hard to stay in business…if you’re small, get bigger and milk more cows.https://t.co/1sugDXaiPU— Sen. Tammy Baldwin (@SenatorBaldwin) October 1, 2019
The thing is, Perdue is correct in that the number of cows and milk production basically hasn’t changed in America over the last few years. As the latest USDA release shows, there were 62 million more pounds of milk produced in August 2019 than there was in August 2018, and the number of cows have only decreased by 0.5% nationwide.
Even in Wisconsin, with the numerous amount of dairy farms closing over the last 12 months, there are only 7,000 fewer cows in the state out of 1.27 million. Which indicates that the Wisconsin farms that do survive are growing their herds, which goes in line with the Walker Administration’s encouragement of CAFOS and other Big Ag over the 2010s.
So with that reality in mind, Sec Perdue, should something be done beyond paying cash to (mostly corporate) farmers? How about having companies and farmers limit the amount of milk they pump out to change the “supply-demand balance”?
"I think that’s been tried before and I don’t think in America that’s the way we need to go," Perdue told reporters. "While some have suggested that, I don’t think that’s what I know about America and American productivity regarding supply management. We tried farm programs in the past to do that, set-aside programs and dairy buyouts and other kinds of things. The industry has to control its balance of supply and demand."“The industry” should be trusted, Sonny? You mean the same industry that jammed thousands of cows into small areas, continued to pump out increasing amounts of milk, and consistently cut corners on regulations, leaving it up to Wisconsin taxpayers and homeowners to deal with the inevitable hazards that result?
I don’t think so, Sonny. But thanks for showing who you work for – Big Ag and the donations that go with it. Just like what we see with rural legislators and their donors from the Dairy Business Association in Wisconsin.
Yes, prices are finally higher for milk these days (more than 15% over the last year). But that's far too late for a lot of everyday Wisconsin dairy farmers, as the number of dairy farms lost have now gone over 800 in a 12-month stretch, and nearly 1,800 since Perdue and the rest of the Trump Administration took power after 2016.
The only way this changes is if the faces in charge are changed from the pro-corporate mentality that has guided agricultural policy in this state and this country. Last year’s election for Governor was a start, but there are a lot of others that need to go if we’re going to change this losing course for Wisconsin agriculture.