Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Agriculture secretary offers little hope for small dairy farmers

Sonny Perdue spoke at a town hall during the World Dairy
Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. (AP photo by John Hart)
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue predicted a rocky future for family dairy farms during the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin Tuesday, Todd Richmond reports for The Associated Press. He said the 2018 Farm Bill should help farmers stay in business, but warned that smaller farms will struggle to compete.

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," Perdue told reporters. "I don't think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability."

Dairy farmers have been hit with increasing pressures over the past decade: declining consumer taste for cow's milk, unfavorable international trade conditions and declining milk prices; and those issues have added to depression among farmers, Richmond reports. Small dairy farmers are dealing with additional problems on top of that: major dairy distributors find it more cost-effective to buy milk from large dairy farms, often leaving family farms without customers.

"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," Perdue said Tuesday.

The avalanche of financial pressures has led many dairy farmers to leave the business. Wisconsin has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019, on the heels of losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, Richmond reports. Some farmers left the town hall feeling discouraged. Jerry Volenc, a fifth-generation dairy farmer with 330 cows, told reporters: "What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there's no place for me . . . Can I get some support from my state and federal government? I feel like we're a benefit to society."

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