MADISON — President Donald
Trump's agriculture secretary said 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 Tuesday following an appearance
at the World Dairy Expo in Madison that it's 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
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
cyber-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, American 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. farmers' 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.
GOP congressional candidate
wants constitutional convention
MADISON, Wis. — A Republican Wisconsin
state lawmaker who is running for Congress wants to call a
convention of the states to consider making changes to the
U.S. Constitution, including imposing term limits on federal
The measure by state Sen. Tom Tiffany, up for a hearing in a
state Senate committee on Thursday, builds upon a similar
resolution the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature passed
in 2017. That one allowed for calling a convention to
consider a balanced budget amendment. This one is more
The new proposal allows for the convention to consider three
things: imposing fiscal restraints on the federal
government; limiting the federal government’s powers and
jurisdiction; and imposing term limits for members of
Congress and other federal officials.
Article V of the U.S. Constitution creates two paths for
amending the document. Congress can refer an amendment to
the states by a two-thirds vote of each chamber or
two-thirds of state Legislatures — 34 states — can request
that Congress call a convention of the states. Both methods
require at least 38 states to ratify an amendment before it
can take effect.
The convention process has never been used to amend the
Constitution. Democrats and other opponents are reviving
arguments they made in 2017, saying a convention could
become a free-for-all, leading to far-ranging revisions that
could drastically reshape the nation's founding document.
The proposal is “reckless,” would tie the hands of federal
lawmakers in times of economic crisis and impose “arbitrary
and anti-democratic” term limits, said Matt Rothschild,
director of the liberal Wisconsin Democracy Campaign which
tracks spending in elections.
Tiffany, along with the measure’s co-sponsor Rep. Dan Knodl,
penned an op-ed piece ahead of the hearing, explaining their
support for the measure. They argue that the ability to call
a constitutional convention was put in place to rein in the
federal government was it has “grown too reckless.”
“Adding term limits to our Constitution removes incentives
for career politicians to become part of the DC swamp, and
instead focus their attention on solutions to the problems
we sent them there to fix - like our overspending,” Tiffany
and Knodl wrote.
Tiffany has been in the state Legislature, where there are
no term limits, since 2011. Knodl, from Germantown, has been
in since 2009.
The proposal comes as Tiffany is running for Congress in
northern Wisconsin’s 7th District. Tiffany’s resolution
calls for term limits at the federal level, but he has not
said what they should be. One of his Republican challengers,
Jason Church, has said he would not serve more than four
No Democrat has announced they are running in the deeply
Republican district that had been represented by Republican
Sean Duffy before he resigned last week. Evers has yet to
set the date of the special election.
The proposal working its way through the Legislature can be
enacted without Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ signature
because it is a resolution and not a bill to make a state
law. That means the hurdle to enact it is much lower, as it
needs to only pass the state Senate and Assembly, both of
which are controlled by Republicans who approved a similar
idea just two years ago.
Thirty states have passed resolutions calling for a
constitutional convention to pass a balanced budget
amendment. Fifteen states have passed the more expansive one
being considered currently in the Wisconsin Legislature.