From the desk of our executive director: Get big or get out, a redux

Farm and Food

Asked about the plight of dairy farmers in Wisconsin, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “[The] big get bigger and small go out and that’s kind of what we’ve seen here...

Everyone will have to make their own decisions economically whether they can survive.”

The Center for Rural Affairs was founded in 1973. Earl Butz was Secretary of Agriculture. Butz had a similar view, “Get big or get out.”

Butz believed farm consolidation was inevitable.

The Center was founded on a different belief. We believe in our ability to come together to shape the future through policy change. We believe in widespread ownership of businesses and farmland. We believe those who work hard ought to have an opportunity to share in the ownership and prosperity their labor created.

For 46 years, we have stood up for these beliefs.

Unlike Perdue, we believe consolidation in agriculture is not inevitable. Instead, we understand it is the direct result of policy decisions we have made together as a nation. We can choose to make different policy decisions. Consider:

We can choose to place a cap on crop insurance subsidies. Right now, if one operation farmed the entire state of Iowa, the federal government would subsidize their crop insurance on every single acre. We have fought to level the playing field by capping this subsidy at $50,000 per farm, a cap that would affect only the largest 2 percent of farms.

We can choose to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act and put hardworking livestock producers on a level playing field in the market dominated by large multinational meatpackers. Instead, the current administration has chosen to roll back rules and enforcement even further.

These are choices we make. We can make different choices. Together, we have made good choices to shape the future or agriculture, proving it can be done. Consider:

Today, over 70 million acres of working farmland are protected by the Conservation Stewardship Program because we chose to fight for this landmark program in the 2008 farm bill.

The 2018 farm bill includes a record $100 million in funding for beginning farmer training and local food system support because we chose to fight for these programs.

We are not resigned to a future of inevitable market consolidation. We understand the choices we make in Washington set the path for agriculture in the countryside.

We believe in a future where people who work hard are treated fairly in the marketplace, where policymakers fight to protect everyday rural people from corporate market control, and where ownership of assets is widespread with opportunity for all who participate.

We call on policymakers to join us.