Holte: Agriculture needs more unity

Jim Holte
Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation President
Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte, pictured in this file photo, addresses recent media inaccuracies.

There has been some anger and confusion in farm country regarding Secretary Perdue’s comments, during World Dairy Expo.

Farmers and agriculturists are trusting people by nature. When I sit down to watch the news or read the newspaper, I have traditionally trusted that I am getting the straight scoop. Unfortunately, over the past several years, my trust has eroded and recently it was completely washed away after the widespread circulation of a news story that wildly misrepresented the Secretary’s comments at World Dairy Expo.

Related:Holte: Agriculture must stand united

After watching this misleading news story draw a divide in the agriculture community, Kaitlyn Riley, a Wisconsin reporter, transcribed the audio recording into text and highlighted the pieces of the Secretary’s comments that were taken out of context. This demonstrated that the pieces that were pulled out of context were never intended to say what the reporter spun them to say.

Read the full context of the questions and responses below to determine for yourself: (Content from Kaitlyn Riley’s transcript. A full audio recording of the media session is available courtesy of Brownfield.)

Reporter: “We’ve seen a lot of loss of small dairy farms. Do you think that loss of small farms in inevitable, or do you think there is something that can stem the flow of that?”

Perdue: “No, I think the 2018 farm bill will stem the flow of that. What we see, obviously, is economy of scale having happened in America. The big get bigger, and the small will go out, and that is what we’ve seen here. It is very difficult with economy of scale and capital needs and all of the environmental regulations and everything else today, to survive milking 40, 50, 60 or even 100 cows, and that’s what we’ve seen. What we’ve seen is the number of farmers go out but the dairy cows haven’t reduced that much. Those cows have not gone to slaughter. They’ve gone to someone else’s herd for the most part. That just increases the supply of milk which makes the supply-demand balance even exacerbated in that way. I think more dairy farmers will be able to survive with this 2018 Farm Bill and its risk mitigation measures.”

Reporter: “But are they going to survive as they have in the past as small operations, or are they going to have to go big or get out?”

Perdue: “That remains to be seen. Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically of whether they can survive. I don’t think in America for any small business we have a guaranteed income or 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 who have survived through the 2014 Farm Bill should do well in the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Below is an excerpt from the Associated Press news story:

“In America, the big get bigger and the small go out,” Perdue said. “I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”

I don’t know about you, but I see a lot of missing context in this reporter’s quotes from Secretary Perdue. Agri-Talk shared Secretary Perdue’s reaction to the AP story with assistance from Wisconsin’s Brian Winnekins, reporter with WRDN radio. In reference to changes to the 2018 Farm Bill, Secretary Perdue commented, “these smaller herds have a better shot now than they’ve had the last five years.”

So why are we seeing the Secretary’s initial comments being spun to suggest he feels otherwise? Agriculture is normally bipartisan, but recently we have seen the political spotlight turned our way. Farmers are most comfortable putting their heads down and working hard in order to get the job done. Naturally this is an uncomfortable place for us to be: the center of controversy. We find ourselves in the middle of a political tug-of-war that is taking place on the biggest of stages, national politics. Who do we trust and what should we believe?

How do we know whether we are receiving the full truth, or only a small piece? I’m sure you know as well as I that the truth is often not very controversial, so reporters use spin or have an angle on the truth to further an agenda or get a reaction out of people.

As farmers, we are pretty used to picking up on things that smell a little like manure, so trust your gut when something smells foul. As farmers, we offer trust, truth and honesty to those we deal with and we need to stick together and demand the same from our news media as they cover agricultural topics.

One of the best parts of rural America is our support for each other. When a neighbor faces a challenge, we step up and help him or her through it. We cannot let misleading news stories divide us in a time when we are already facing so many other challenges. It is essential that we stick together, so we don’t continue to fall victim to political battles that play out in the news. Imagine how powerful we can be if we have a united voice for agriculture.

I ask you to stand with me and be a united voice demanding truth and honesty from our news media.