October 6, 2019

Opinion: Get the 'Get Big Or Get Out' Outta Here

 |  By: Chip Flory

Stressful financial conditions throughout the ag industry are… stressful.

That stress leaves many (most) more sensitive to messaging from leaders in the industry. It also leaves industry leaders vulnerable to misinterpretation of what they said… and to misrepresentation from the media. I believe that happened to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this week.

Secretary Perdue was at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin. In a question-and-answer session, a reporter asked the Secretary about the hard financial times in Wisconsin’s dairy farming. Secretary Perdue answered the question with comments about “efficiencies of scale” – which included a reference to U.S. dairy herds getting bigger, smaller operations exiting the business and the cows from those smaller operations changing an address rather than leaving production. Secretary Perdue also explained that he felt there were provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill that will give “smaller operations” a better chance at success.

The reporter persisted with the follow up question: “But are they going to survive as they have in the past as a small operation, or are they going to have to get big or get out?”

(So… the words “get big or get out” were used in this interview, but not by Secretary Perdue.)

“That remains to be seen,” said Secretary Perdue. “Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically whether they can survive. I don’t think in America we, or any small business, have a guaranteed income or a guaranteed profitability of survival. That depends on each and every farmer and dairy farmer. Farmers are pretty good at managing and managing through tough times. I think those that have survived the ’14 Farm Bill should do well in the ’18 Farm Bill.”

That seems to be a fair assessment. And not nearly as inflammatory as “Secretary Sonny said, ‘get big or get out.’” But the inflammatory message made it out of Madison and across the Midwest.

I had an opportunity to talk with Secretary Perdue about the Administration’s biofuels plan Friday morning. I couldn’t let the conversation with him get away without addressing “his comments” at World Dairy Expo. Please listen…