It’s a head scratcher.  For unfathomable reasons USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue’s connotative discourse has created self-inflicted wounds for the White House.

There was Purdue’s brain-fart on August 7 at a farm show in Minnesota. 

With farmers facing record bankruptcies and dwindling profits due to President Trump’s trade war with China Purdue showed little empathy for the farmer’s plight:

“I had a farmer tell me this in Pennsylvania,” Perdue said.  “He said, ‘What do you call two farmers in a basement?’ I said ‘I don’t know, what do you call them?’”

Perdue said the farmer said: “A whine cellar.”

Needless to say, farmers were not amused.

Or how about Purdue’s unwillingness to acknowledge humanity’s culpability in climate change.  

There was this and this and this.  With that kind of track record it’s not surprising that Purdue all but dismantled USDA’s Economic Research Service.

But Purdue’s biggest mind-bending hiccup to date may have come October 1 during a farmer town hall meeting at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin.  

In a room of small dairy farmers struggling to hang on to their operations Purdue ripped their hearts out:

“In American the big get bigger and the small go out.  I don’t think in America we, for any small business, we have a guaranteed income or guaranteed profitability.”

Just in case anyone wanted to give Purdue a pass, he made it crystal clear just who we were talking about, saying economy of scale and other factors (lack of USDA support???) made it “very difficult…to survive milking 40, 50,or 60 or even 100 cows.”

Purdue for the small family farmer … uh not so much.  

In case you need translation , the current folk in the White House are saying if you are small get the hell out.  We don’t want you. Don’t expect support. It doesn’t matter than your family has been milking for the last 100 years.  Personal dedication is overrated. You can’t make it and if you think you can … well you’re an idiot.

Purdue’s lack of concern is appalling.  Especially since two of the nation’s top dairy economists – Charles Nicholson of Cornell University and Mark Stephenson of University of Wisconsin-Madison – have come up with a milk managed supply system to better match actual U.S. demand for dairy products.

However for Purdue it’s a non-starter, telling Barron County Farm Bureau President Karyn Schauf “If you need to know now, the answer’s no.”

I have got to believe that Purdue is beginning to wear thin on farmers who, by and large, have stuck with the White House even though it has been economically crippling.  

Abraham Lincoln created the Department of Agriculture back in 1862 and two and a half years later had this to say:

“The Agricultural Department, under the supervision of its present energetic and faithful head, is rapidly commending itself to the great and vital interest it was created to advance. It is precisely the people’s Department, in which they feel more directly concerned that in any other.”

The “people’s Department”.  But for Purdue it ain’t about people. And that’s a tragedy.

About Dave Dickey

Dave Dikcey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for the Midwest Center covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. Email him at

Type of work:

David Dickey always wanted to be a journalist. After serving tours in the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, Dickey enrolled at Rock Valley Junior College in Rockford, Ill., where he was first news editor...

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