Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Perdue's family farmer gaffe sounded heartless but didn't deserve as much criticism as it got, writes former ag editor

Urban Lehner
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue caught a lot of grief after he suggested a rocky future for small farmers at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin last month, but he could have dug himself out of that hole a little if he had followed his grim prediction with a promise that the government will do more to help family farmers survive, writes Urban Lehner, editor emeritus of DTN/The Progressive Farmer.

"In America, the big get bigger and the small go out," Perdue told reporters. He said the 2018 Farm Bill should help farmers stay in business, but warned that that larger farms will be better able to comply with environmental regulations and weather lean times, and said no small business owner has a guaranteed income or profit, Lehner writes.

"That may be true of small businesses in many industries, but it ignores the broad array of financial assistance Uncle Sam provides farmers both small and large. Perdue has to know that rightly or wrongly, small farmers think those government programs favor the big farmers and don't do enough for small ones," Lehner writes.

Perdue's comment was a classic gaffe, which Lehner says can be defined as "when a politician accidentally tells the truth." Though Lehner writes that he has no wish to defend Perdue overall, he believes some of the criticism of the remark was "over the top" and ignored the context of the remark. But Lehner also takes Perdue to task for sounding unfeeling: "With his experience in politics Perdue should have known he was putting his foot in his mouth. Precisely because small farms do have a hard time competing, with some struggling to survive, to say so without expressing sympathy for those affected by the trend made the secretary seem heartless."

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