Wisconsin has lost 1,654 dairy farms in the last 3 years, according to the state department of Agriculture. That’s over 20% percent of the state’s dairy farms!
In response to the current crisis, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue recently said, “In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.” Apparently, the proliferation of large confinement dairy operations is simply inevitable in America because of the “efficiencies” of scale.
The reality is “Big Ag” would have a lot more trouble competing if it weren’t for preferential government policies, and if it actually had to pay for the real costs of how it does business. Big Ag has greatly benefited from our fuel and grain subsidies, and unchecked “liberties” to contaminate our food and environment.
In 2016, the highest grossing 10 percent of farms received 77 percent of the farm subsidies.
CAFO or confinement dairy systems thrive when oil and grain is subsidized. These supposedly “efficient” systems require tilling, sowing, fertilizing, herbiciding, pesticiding, and transporting annual grains to confined cows rather than simply turning cows out to perennial pastures to harvest their own food. Which system seems more efficient to you? Clearly our policies are influencing what we deem “efficient.”
Efficiencies aside, Perdue’s statement also implies that, as Americans, we should value capitalism over anything else. What he fails to respect is that most American farmers actually chose farming over opportunities for larger paychecks elsewhere. If small farms are doomed to fail in America, we have to accept the loss of a way of life that many of us want.
What kind of “freedom” is that?
Whether you chose farming or not, we all benefit from the side effects of successful small farms. Small farms dotting America’s landscape result in busy main streets, thriving public schools, local culture, and the clean food, drinking water, land, and air that ecological farming provides. We now understand that farming in nature’s image is healthier for the farm animals (no antibiotics), the people eating the food (no residues, nutrient-density), the planet (clean drinking water, surface water, soil, and air), and communities.
This week’s “Know Your Farmer” video highlights a Wisconsin family dairy farm affected by the ongoing crisis created by the influx of large agribusiness into organic markets. The McCluskey Brothers are seeing a continuous decline in bulk milk pay price despite producing the kind of real organic milk that consumers are seeking – the milk that’s higher in healthy omega-3’s and conjugated linoleic acids produced by cows that graze on living pastures.
Sonny Perdue has a miserable tenure as the USDA Secretary of Agribusiness. His statements have consistently celebrated size and profit over all other values. He works to create an uglier world in which animal welfare and social welfare are despised topics. He has treated dissent with contempt. He dismisses organic farmers' concerns that Big Ag is taking over as socialism, urging those who disagree with him to leave the US. He should not be the person who defines organic for America.
What we’ve lost under Perdue’s leadership is the ability to find this truly pastured milk when we choose products with the organic seal. Instead, milk from dairies following the organic rules is mixed with CAFO “organic” milk that only exists due to lax enforcement of the current standards. Or worse, the real organic dairies are going out of business. The result is the loss of organic family dairies and a consumer’s right to find good food.
We must not sit back and accept the status quo. We are obligated to speak for the things that, as Americans, we value.
Yours in the dirt,