A group of Minnesota farmers voiced disappointment after U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said he didn't know if the family dairy farm can survive the industry's move toward a factory farm model.
“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue said Tuesday, Oct. 1 at the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”
His comments come on the heels of five years of poor dairy prices that saw the closing of many small dairies, including those in Douglas County, even as enormous dairies expand.
The Minnesota Farmers Union, a grassroots family farm organization representing about 14,000 members, called Perdue's comments "incredibly frustrating," especially from someone who is supposed to represent all family farmers.
"The ‘get big or get out’ business philosophy hasn’t worked," said Gary Wertish, the group's president. "Rather it has caused consolidation in the agriculture industry that’s driven too many family farmers off the farm and hurt rural communities. “
He said the federal government should pass policies that earn family farmers a fair price and keeps them on their land, no matter what size they are.
Perdue, a former governor of Georgia, has drawn criticism in Minnesota in the past. His folksy southern humor fell flat this summer when he visited Minnesota Farmfest and repeated what he called a "cute little joke": "What do you call two farmers in a basement? ... A whine cellar."
It came at a time of acute financial stress among farmers that saw the state boost funding for mental health outreach.