After Troubling Response, Rep. Delgado Invites Secretary of Agriculture to NY-19 to Hear Directly from Struggling Farmers

March 1, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC -- When Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was asked by U.S. Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19) what could be done to help small dairy farmers in Upstate New York, Perdue replied that economies of scale are destined to impose certain harsh consequences on small farmers. He called the challenges facing dairy farmers “intractable.” Perdue added that he would not be “compelled to keep anyone in business if it’s not profitable.”

Watch the full exchange during the February 27th Agriculture Committee hearing here.

Delgado, feeling that Perdue’s response was wholly inadequate, sent a letter today inviting the Secretary to New York’s 19th Congressional District to hear directly from farmers whose livelihoods have been jeopardized by low prices, market consolidation, and a lack of access to local resources.

In meetings with local farmers and a recent visit to Don’s Dairy Supply with Duane Martin, President of the Delaware County Farm Bureau and owner of a small dairy operation, Delgado asked farmers about potential solutions. They discussed ideas for improvements like localized infrastructure, access to capital for equipment, and help dealing with the challenges presented by a globalized market.

In his letter to Perdue, Delgado said, “Priorities dictate policies. And when it comes to your Agency’s priorities, I believe a reassessment is necessary. Family-owned farming operations have provided a high quality of life not only for rural areas, but for our whole nation, for hundreds of years,” Delgado said. “If small farms perish, so will a quintessential aspect of American life.”

Delgado represents the eighth most rural congressional district in the country. During his first in-district work period, Delgado held a roundtable with local farmers, toured farms in the district, and met with members of the New York Farm Bureau.

Read Delgado’s letter to Perdue:

Dear Secretary Perdue:

As the representative for New York’s 19th Congressional District and a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, standing up for farmers is one of my highest priorities. I am proud to represent the eighth most rural congressional district in the country—an area that is home to thousands of farms, many of which are small, family-run operations. For that reason, being an effective advocate for my constituents in Upstate New York means fighting for policies that protect small farms nationwide.

Last week, I met with farmers in the 19th District who told me about the problems facing small farming operations in today’s agricultural economy. I heard from small, family farmers who worry that their livelihoods are on the verge of extinction. Looking at the dairy numbers, for example, their concerns are justified: New York State had nearly 12,000 dairy farms in 1989, but only about 4,000 by 2017. And while there are still dairy operations in ten of the 11 counties that I represent, the number of dairy farms has declined in every one of those counties over the past 13 years.

No single policy can ameliorate the difficulties these farmers face, but it is vitally important that small farms enjoy access to localized infrastructure and resources so that they can remain competitive in an increasingly concentrated market. After wrapping up my first in-district work week last Sunday, I looked forward to your testimony before the Agriculture Committee on February 27, 2019. Thinking of my constituents back home, I asked you about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s efforts ensure that its personnel, technology and services are accessible in rural farm economies like the one I represent. After all, folks in my District depend on your Agency for assistance ranging from loan programs to service centers.

To be clear, your response—that economies of scale are destined to impose certain harsh consequences on small farmers—was wholly inadequate. While I asked about specific USDA efforts to ensure to that programs are available to constituencies like mine, you replied that the future of small dairy farms will be “extremely difficult,” and went on to comment that you do not feel “compelled to keep anyone in business if it’s not profitable.” The problems facing small farms in my District, you said, are “intractable.” I am concerned, to say the least, to hear these comments coming from the Secretary of Agriculture—the cabinet officer who oversees the federal agency most responsible for fostering rural quality of life.

Contrary to your testimony, I believe that allowing small farms to fail is a conscious choice rather than an unavoidable consequence of economies of scale. Roughly one-third of the USDA’s commodity program payments go to farms with at least $1 million in annual sales. Though nearly 90 percent of American farms make less than $350,000 in sales per year, these farms receive only about 30 percent of USDA subsidies. Priorities dictate policies. And when it comes to your Agency’s priorities, I believe a reassessment is necessary.

During our exchange on Wednesday, you assured me that you were open to hearing about new approaches that would help small farmers succeed in a challenging agricultural economy. For a start, I invite you to visit New York’s 19th District for a roundtable discussion with some of the many small farmers I represent who have been squeezed by low prices, market concentration, and a lack of access to local resources. After hearing their stories—and learning about the tools they need—I hope you will reconsider the implications of your recent testimony.

Since the 18th century, small farms have played a dynamic role in holding together our country’s economic and social fabric. Family-owned farming operations have provided a high quality of life not only for rural areas, but for our whole nation, for hundreds of years. If small farms perish, so will a quintessential aspect of American life.

I appreciate your attention to this matter and I look forward to the possibility of your visit to New York’s 19th District.

 

                                                                                Sincerely,

                                                                                Antonio Delgado

                                                                                Member of Congress