There’s Always a Place for the Family Farm [OPINION]

Farm families Wilson Dinsmore and Bassetti

These are just three of the farming families that defy Secretary Perdue’s pessimism: (R to L) The Dinsmores, the Wilsons, and the Bassettis.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s recent comments are so antithetical to what I stand for as an agriculture writer and editor, I’d be quite remiss if I didn’t respond.

Secretary Perdue spoke last week before a group of Wisconsin farmers at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI. Much of the audience, fed up with being used as pawns in what appears to be a directionless agricultural trade policy by his administration, hoped to hear the Ag Secretary discuss a better way forward. And it’s in that setting Perdue told the group they might as well give up the dream and go get jobs in town.

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

The farmers responded in exactly the manner anyone would guess, with reactions ranging from bewilderment to outright outrage.

I’ll keep the full range of my own indignation at the audacity of such comments to myself. There’s currently all too much anger and vitriol floating around regarding what Perdue said in Wisconsin.

Instead, I’ll use this time and space to reaffirm my commitment to the small, independent, family farm.

And I’ll happily point out the fact that not only are 96% of American farms family owned, according to the 2017 Ag Census, but young people are returning to ag in large numbers. That same census showed there are 321,261 producers age 35 or younger. And one in four American farms is now headed up by a farmer with 10 years or less experience.

These Farms Aren’t Going Away

I’ve met some amazing farmers over the years. Take longtime precision ag technology evangelist Jeremy Wilson and his father Wade, who I rode along with in the combine for a story a couple falls back. Wade so graciously shared the hardscrabble details of his humbling rags to riches journey with me. As a young family farmer with a wife and a new son (Jeremy) in the tumultuous ’80s, he was on the brink of bankruptcy. But he built himself back up to financial solvency one season, one crop at a time.

I highly doubt the Wades will give up the family farm and move to the city anytime soon.

Consider another family-run operation, this year’s American Vegetable Grower 2019 Grower Achievement Award winner, J&D Produce. Basetti family patriarch Jimmy has created quite the business around his fresh grown produce. He also has a strong succession structure is in place with son James leading up operations. Producing clean, nutritious food that consumers want to feed to their families is more than a mere passion for these folks. It’s their life mission.

The Basettis aren’t going anywhere for a while.

Neither is Yuma, AZ, lettuce farmer Jon Dinsmore. His social media campaign shines a positive light on all things ag, and it’s something you should definitely check out if ever in need of inspiration. Dinsmore is always educating the next generation about his farm and what he does and why. And all while preparing his growing brood of Dinsmore kids (pardon the pun) for a future producing food and fiber for a generation of their peers that seem more worried about Fortnite and Tik Tok.

The Dinsmores, I’m guessing, won’t be leaving farming anytime soon.

So, while I’ll always support our folks serving the industry down at the USDA, as well as the Secretary of Agriculture, I must respectfully disagree with Secretary Perdue’s somewhat stunted vision of the future of agriculture in this great country.

The family farm simply isn’t going away, anytime soon.

That’s one, in my mind, you can take to the bank, Mr. Secretary.

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Avatar for Ray Samulis Ray Samulis says:

As county agricultural agent for 42 years, I daily dealt with farmers during that time. Before I retired two years ago I taught on campus classes to Ag undergrads and I can assure you there a lot of young people interested in Ag probably more so than when I was in college. At my extension meetings, I many times chastised farmers when they lamented they have no one interested in Ag. One big problem is that many farmers see their children interested in the farm as the less talented kids. Sadly, I have heard farmers say directly to their children “this is the smart one- going to college to get another job, and this is the dumb one who is staying on the farm !”

Ray Samulis
Professor Emeritus

Avatar for John Govin John Govin says:

Perdue didn’t say anything untrue,only offensive. He’s right the government and society doesn’t owe us a living but we do owe it to ourselves to build businesses that generate enough income to be profitable and sustainable.