Tim Prosser who owns a dairy farm, with his father, John, tends to his cows in Columbus, Wis. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Tim Prosser who owns a dairy farm, with his father, John, tends to his cows in Columbus, Wis. File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ag secretary: No guarantee small dairy farms will survive

MADISON, Wis. — U.S. President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary said Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters following an appearance at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it’s getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds.

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”

Perdue’s visit comes as Wisconsin dairy farmers are wrestling with a host of problems, including declining milk prices, rising suicide rates, the transition to larger farms with hundreds or thousands of animals and Trump’s international trade wars.

Wisconsin, which touts itself as America’s Dairyland on its license plates, has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019 after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The Legislature’s finance committee voted unanimously last month to spend an additional $200,000 to help struggling farmers deal with depression and mental health problems.

Jerry Volenec, a fifth generation Wisconsin dairy farmer with 330 cows, left the Perdue event feeling discouraged about his future.

“What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there’s no place for me,” Volenec told reporters. “Can I get some support from my state and federal government? I feel like we’re a benefit to society.”

Getting bigger at the expense of smaller operations like his is “not a good way to go,” said Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union and a third generation dairy farmer who runs a 50-cow organic farm.

“Do we want one corporation owning all the food in our country?” he said to reporters.

Perdue said he believes the 2018 farm bill should help farmers stay afloat. The bill reauthorizes agriculture and conservation programs at a rough cost of $400 billion over five years or $867 billion over 10 years. But he warned that small farms will still struggle to compete.

“It’s very difficult on an economy of scale with the capital needs and all the environmental regulations and everything else today to survive milking 40, 50, or 60 or even 100 cows,” he said.

Perdue held a town hall meeting with farmers and agricultural groups to kick off the expo. The former Georgia governor seemed to charm the crowd with his southern accent and jokes about getting swiped in the face by a cow’s tail.

Jeff Lyon, general manager for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative in Madison, asked Perdue for his thoughts on Trump’s trade war with China.

Trump’s administration has long accused China of unfair trade practices and has imposed escalating rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports to press for concessions. The administration alleges that Beijing steals and forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets, unfairly subsidizes Chinese companies and engages in cyber-theft of intellectual property. China’s countermoves have been especially hard on American farmers because they target U.S. agricultural exports.

According to a September analysis by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, U.S. dairy solids exports to China fell by 43 per cent overall in the 11 months starting in July 2018, when China enacted the first round of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. dairy products. About 3.7 billion pounds of U.S. farmers’ milk had to find other markets during that span, the analysis found.

Chinese leaders have said they’re ready to talk but will take whatever steps are necessary to protect their rights.

Perdue responded to Lyon’s question by calling the Chinese “cheaters.”

“They toyed us into being more dependent on their markets than them on us. That’s what the problem has been,” he said. “They can’t expect to come into our country freely and fairly without opening up their markets.”

The secretary said the Trump administration is working to expand other international markets, including targeting India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia. He said he had expected Congress to ratify a new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA but noted that Washington has been distracted over the last few days, an allusion to impeachment proceedings against Trump ramping up last week.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo by Advocate staff)
Zero tax increase approved by Red Deer city council for 2021 and 2022

City council passed operating budgets for the next two years on Thursday

Red Deer city council approved a $39.6 million police budget for 2021, up for inflationary reasons from $37.9 million in 2020. (Black Press file photo).
Red Deer city council retains police funding, while also launching a crisis team

De-funding police is not a conversation in this municipality

Alberta reported an additional 1,854 cases of COVID-19 Thursday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-HO, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories)
Red Deer has 289 active cases of COVID-19

Province now has 17,743 active cases

The Cambridge Hotel and Conference Centre in Red Deer has new owners. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Cambridge Hotel in Red Deer has new ownership group

‘They’re making an investment in this iconic hotel for the future,’ says general manager Gil Vallee

The new Gasoline Alley Farmers Market officially opened on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
Gasoline Alley brewery a collaboration between brewers and farmers

Red Deer County’s newest brewery has been built from the ground up… Continue reading

Dan Cochrane, senior pastor at CrossRoads Church. Contributed photo
CrossRoads Church closes its doors for two weeks after staff member tests positive for COVID-19

CrossRoads Church made the decision to cancel in-house services for two weeks… Continue reading

Russell Knox takes 1st-round lead in Mayakoba Golf Classic

Russell Knox takes 1st-round lead in Mayakoba Golf Classic

Charley Hull takes LPGA Tour lead in chilly North Texas

Charley Hull takes LPGA Tour lead in chilly North Texas

Bayern's Alphonso Davies, right, challenges PSG's Thilo Kehrer, left, during the Champions League final soccer match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bayern Munich at the Luz stadium in Lisbon, Portugal, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Miguel A. Lopes/Pool via AP
Alphonso Davies’ remarkable year continues with Canadian Player of the Year award

Alphonso Davies’ remarkable year continues with Canadian Player of the Year award

Japan's national wheelchair basketball team warm up on the court during a grand opening ceremony of the Ariake Arena, a venue for wheelchair basketball during the 2020 Paralympic Games, in Tokyo, Feb. 2, 2020. Ottawa has been named host city for the 2026 world men's and women's wheelchair basketball championships. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jae C. Hong
Ottawa to host 2026 world wheelchair basketball championships

Ottawa to host 2026 world wheelchair basketball championships

Mikael Kingsbury, of Canada, trains during the FIS Freestyle World Cup skiing competition Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Park City, Utah. Kingsbury will miss moguls races for the first time in his World Cup career after suffering a back injury in training on Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jeff Swinger
Canadian moguls king Mikael Kingsbury sidelined with back injury

Canadian moguls king Mikael Kingsbury sidelined with back injury

Curlers sweep a rock during in Brandon, Man., on March 5, 2019. Add two more competitions to the Calgary curling "bubble" that's slated to hold several events later this season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Two Grand Slam events added to curling bubble at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary

Two Grand Slam events added to curling bubble at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary

Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, speaks during an Assembly of First Nations annual general meeting in Regina on Thursday, July 27, 2017. As a second wave of COVID-19 washes over the First Nations population with disproportionate and deadly impacts, leaders and health professionals are facing an extra challenge. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor
Gaining trust: History of Indigenous experiments poses challenge in COVID health

Gaining trust: History of Indigenous experiments poses challenge in COVID health

Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance responds to a question during a news conference Friday, June 26, 2020 in Ottawa. Vance is ordering his troops to be ready to pick up COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. and Europe on short notice, and prepare to help distribute the doses while responding to floods and other emergencies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Feds, provinces to stage distribution dry run as approval of first vaccine imminent

Feds, provinces to stage distribution dry run as approval of first vaccine imminent

Most Read