President Donald Trump’s agriculture secretary said Tuesday during a stop in Wisconsin that he doesn’t know if the family dairy farm can survive as the industry moves toward a factory farm model.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters following an appearance at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it is getting harder for farmers to get by on milking smaller herds.
“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.”
Perdue’s visit comes as Wisconsin dairy farmers are wrestling with a host of problems, including declining milk prices, rising suicide rates, the transition to larger farms with hundreds or thousands of animals, and Trump’s international trade wars.
Wisconsin, which touts itself as America’s Dairyland on its license plates, has lost 551 dairy farms in 2019 after losing 638 in 2018 and 465 in 2017, according to data from the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The Legislature’s finance committee voted unanimously last month to spend an additional $200,000 to help struggling farmers deal with depression and mental health problems.
Jerry Volenec, a fifth generation Wisconsin dairy farmer with 330 cows, left the Perdue event feeling discouraged about his future.
“What I heard today from the secretary of agriculture is there’s no place for me,” Volenec told reporters. “Can I get some support from my state and federal government? I feel like we’re a benefit to society.”
Getting bigger at the expense of smaller operations like his is “not a good way to go,” said Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union and a third generation dairy farmer who runs a 50-cow organic farm.
“Do we want one corporation owning all the food in our country?” he said to reporters.
Perdue said he believes the 2018 farm bill should help farmers stay afloat. The bill reauthorizes agriculture and conservation programs at a rough cost of $400 billion over five years or $867 billion over 10 years. But he warned that small farms will still struggle to compete.
“It’s very difficult on an economy of scale with the capital needs and all the environmental regulations and everything else today to survive milking 40, 50, or 60 or even 100 cows,” he said.
Perdue held a town hall meeting with farmers and agricultural groups to kick off the expo. The former Georgia governor seemed to charm the crowd with his southern accent and jokes about getting swiped in the face by a cow’s tail.
Jeff Lyon, general manager for FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative in Madison, asked Perdue for his thoughts on Trump’s trade war with China.
Trump’s administration has long accused China of unfair trade practices and has imposed escalating rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports to press for concessions. The administration alleges that Beijing steals and forces foreign companies to hand over trade secrets, unfairly subsidizes Chinese companies, and engages in digital theft of intellectual property. China’s countermoves have been especially hard on American farmers because they target U.S. agricultural exports.
According to a September analysis by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, U.S. dairy solids exports to China fell by 43% overall in the 11 months starting in July 2018, when China enacted the first round of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. dairy products. About 3.7 billion pounds of U.S. milk had to find other markets during that span, the analysis found.
Chinese leaders have said they’re ready to talk but will take whatever steps are necessary to protect their rights.
Perdue responded to Lyon’s question by calling the Chinese “cheaters.”
“They toyed us into being more dependent on their markets than them on us. That’s what the problem has been,” he said. “They can’t expect to come into our country freely and fairly without opening up their markets.”
The secretary said the Trump administration is working to expand other international markets, including targeting India, Thailand, Vietnam, Japan and Malaysia. He said he had expected Congress to ratify a new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA but noted that Washington has been distracted over the last few days, an allusion to impeachment proceedings against Trump ramping up last week.
Milton officials hope they have solved semitrailer truck parking issues in the city after months of evaluation, investigation and meetings.
The city council Tuesday outlawed parking semitrailer tractors and trucks on city streets. The only exception is Commerce Way, which will allow semi parking.
The measure passed 6-1. Council member Ryan Holbrook opposed it after asking about snow plows maneuvering around the parked semis.
Council member Bill Wilson said no solution is perfect, but the city’s new ordinance helps both sides.
“I think this is a workable compromise,” Wilson said.
“What we have come up with is something that addresses the residential concerns that have been expressed and also provides a way … for the owners or places that use these types of vehicles to have a place in the city to park.”
The issue of semitrailer truck parking has traveled a long, winding road.
The new ordinance has been hotly debated by residents and city officials since its first reading Aug. 20. At that time, the ordinance clarified wording and outlawed the parking of semis on city streets, including outside the homes of drivers.
The ordinance was changed Sept. 3 to allow semitrailer tractor parking in homeowners’ driveways, similar to campers. But after some back and forth, city officials decided not to allow any part of the trucks in front of homes.
Now, drivers must use Commerce Way or arrange to park at businesses that allow truck parking in their lots. City officials looked at other locations for parking, but they had restrictions or too many residential or commercial concerns.
“It’s really the only one that works,” City Administrator Al Hulick said of Commerce Way.
Commerce Way was suggested as an overnight parking location because it is undeveloped and has a cul-de-sac that allows for turning.
If Commerce Way is ever fully developed, the council might need to revisit the ordinance to outlaw parking there also, Hulick said.
Mayor Anissa Welch said that while the resolution took longer than expected, she hopes it proves to residents that the council wants what is best for the city.
“Maybe semi parking shouldn’t take so long for us to figure it out, but maybe it should,” she said. “… This has established a level of trust with the community that they understand that everybody has the very best thoughts and wishes for their residents and their community.”
Annie Matilda Brown
Brian O. Comstock
Charles I. Deegan
Kim J. Isherwood Sr.
Catherine P. Kitelinger
Edward P. Leahy
Gerald W. Sullivan
Drunken drivers who told Rock County authorities where in Janesville they had their last drink most often reported it was at a tavern or other licensed establishment, according to police data analyzed by a local prevention agency.
A plurality of people—45% in the most recent data—wouldn’t or couldn’t tell police where they had their last drink, but 21% reported last drinking at a licensed location, 15% at a social gathering and 8% elsewhere between March 2018 and March 2019.
Police officers across the state for years have asked people suspected of operating while intoxicated questions related to alcohol consumption, said Erin Davis, director of Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change, a prevention agency focused on reducing substance use.
Two years ago, Mobilizing 4 Change began analyzing data collected by Rock County law enforcement during OWI traffic stops, looking for trends and trying to identify where people most commonly drink before getting pulled over, Davis said.
Officers record date, time, age, gender, name, location of stop, whether drugs were used, location of last drink and blood alcohol content, Davis said.
Mobilizing 4 Change categorizes each place of last drink by type of location: establishment with a liquor license, social gathering or non-descriptive, which includes vague locations such as on a boat or in a park.
Those being questioned have the right to refuse answering, Davis said.
The Janesville organization looks at data from police agencies throughout Rock County for stops involving people who report having drank last in Janesville. Similar organizations in Edgerton, Evansville and Beloit look at data for their cities.
Thirty-two of Janesville’s licensed establishments—about 34% percent of all licensed establishments in the city—were identified as places of last drink between March 2017 and March 2018. Of that, 11% were identified two or more times, according to a report from JM4C.
Between March 2018 and March 2019, 25% of Janesville licensed locations were listed, and 11% were identified two or more times.
In both years of data, Whiskey Ranch was identified most often as place of last drink, according to the report.
Davis said she wants people to have fun but be safe about it.
Barry Badertscher, chairman of the Janesville Alcohol Licensing Advisory Committee, said Tuesday the committee should review the reports from Mobilizing for Change annually to monitor trends, not pick on specific locations.
Committee member Kevin Riley said the city and committee should monitor more than just place of last drink because sometimes people get drunk other places and have only one drink at their last stop.
If one person buys a round of drinks, bartenders might not know a person in the group is already drunk and could unintentionally overserve, Riley said.
No bar in Janesville wants their patrons to get so drunk they get ticketed, Riley said.
Mobilizing 4 Change uses the data to educate bar managers and owners on safe serving, dangers of drink specials and the importance on stopping in to supervise their businesses at night.
Some bar owners look at the data and pinpoint a certain bartender or specific event that could have contributed to more people getting drunk, Davis said.
Janesville Police Deputy Chief John Olsen said the data is meant for education and not punishment.
Olsen said he stops into bars where he hears there might be problems and talks to managers and owners, which usually fixes any problems before they get worse.