U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue recently made some statements that are causing some concern for operators of small farms. During a town hall-style meeting with farmers at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin Perdue noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does what it can to assist farmers but there is no way to assure the success of smaller agricultural operations.
“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,” Perdue said to reporters after the event. “Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically whether they can survive.”
Several reports featuring statements from dairy producers indicate there is a growing level of concern among small farmers and ranchers. Many farmers worry that the current agricultural landscape is accelerating the amount of consolidation in the industry. During the meeting, multiple attendees had questions stemming from perceived preferential treatment for large-scale producers when it comes to regulation enforcement.
USDA figures measure the decline of the number of dairy farms at more than 6 percent last year, with close to 3,000 farms shutting down. Perdue noted that during that same time, the number of dairy cows has not declined by much and supply has remained relatively constant. Understanding that the dairy market has been difficult for small producers in recent years, Perdue expressed his belief in the 2018 Farm Bill for providing enough support for farmers but ultimately it will depend on the situation for the long-term viability of a farm.
“Big get bigger and small go out, and that’s kind of what we’ve seen here,” Perdue noted. “It’s very difficult when in economy 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.”