MADISON (WKOW) — Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told a crowd of dairy farmers he blames China for the trade war and suggested struggling farmers might want to consider expanding their business to survive.
“What we’ve seen is the number of dairy farmers go out, but the dairy cows have not reduced that much… those cows are not going to slaughter, they are going to someone else’s heard for the most part,” said Perdue at the annual Dairy Expo in Madison.
(Follow continuing coverage of Wisconsin’s ag industry HERE.)
Perdue took questions from farmers at a Town Hall to kick off the expo then spoke to the media after.
He was asked if small dairy farms will continue to close or if there’s something that could help prevent it, such as smaller businesses building bigger operations.
“That remains to be seen,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America or in business we have a guaranteed income or profitability of survival that depends on each independent farmers … I think those who have survived the 2014 Farm Bill should do well and the 2018 Farm Bill.”
Last year Wisconsin lost nearly 700 dairy farms, about two a day.
During the town hall, farmers demanded answers if the trade war will eventually be resolved as the dairy industry in Wisconsin is facing bankruptcies, declining milk prices and more.
“I can understand why other countries want to put up barriers, but they can’t expect to come into our country freely and fairly without opening up their markets, that includes the EU, India and everywhere else,” said Perdue.
But his comments didn’t please everyone. A dairy farmer from Grant County said he was frustrated after hearing Perdue speak.
“What I heard today from the Secretary of Agriculture was, there’s no place for me,” said Jerry Volenec.
Even as milk prices begin to stabilize, others who attended wanted to hear solutions.
“Produce a stable farm policy, fulfill your promises and no more talking points, produce results,” said Nate Timm, who chairs the rural caucus for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Perdue also reiterated support to close a “loophole” in the food stamp program, which automatically deems people eligible without additional background checks on someone’s income or assets.
“We want to provide more to people who are eligible by the very rules Congress has instead of people calling a 1-800-number or getting a brochure and being deemed eligible,” said Perdue.
This proposal was introduced by the Trump administration in July, and if passed, more than 25,000 households in Wisconsin would be kicked off the FoodShare program.
Wisconsin’s Medicaid Director Jim Jones said this proposal would create additional hurdles for those trying to enroll and create a chilling effect for participants.
Perdue said the rule change is necessary to create a fair system and to prevent those from abusing it.