Wisconsin Farm Bureau president: Reporters misquoted Sonny Perdue

    Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue in front of cameras
    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

    The president of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau accused Wisconsin reporters of misleading the public by not accurately quoting U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and insisted reporters revise their stories.

    Perdue drew negative attention when he visited the World Dairy Expo in Wisconsin on Oct. 2 and was widely quoted as telling reporters that when it comes to farming, “the big get bigger and the small go out.”  He was speaking on the topic of the dairy industry moving toward a factory farm model.

    The comments provoked outrage among small farmers and others defending family farming heritage in Wisconsin, including a commentary piece in Wisconsin Examiner by retired dairy farmer Jim Goodman. Gov. Tony Evers even responded saying Perdue “put the pox on small farming in the state.” 

    But according to a statement nine days later by Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte, Perdue didn’t actually say what he was quoted as saying.

    “I am very disappointed by the misleading and inaccurate news stories being shared across Wisconsin, and the country, following Secretary Perdue’s visit to World Dairy Expo,” said Holte in a release on the bureau’s website today.

    In his message, he tells reporters to correct the record: “I ask reporters, or others, who have shared pieces that include inaccuracies about the Secretary’s comments to retract or revise those pieces to more accurately reflect the full context of the conversation.”

    Perdue’s comments as reported by AP were:  “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.”

    Senior Communications Associate Patrick Maks  in The Associated Press department of Media Relations and Corporate Communications said AP was not sent a copy of Holte’s statement. “We stand by our story,” he said.

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted his comments with other details: “Now what we see, obviously, is economies of scale having happened in America — big get bigger and small go out. … It’s very difficult on economies of scale with the capital needs and all the environmental regulations and everything else today to survive milking 40, 50, 60 or even 100 cows, and that’s what we’ve seen.”

    “I’m not aware of what others reported, but no one has raised any questions or concerns about the accuracy of the Journal Sentinel’s report of what Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the World Dairy Expo,” said George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Everyone has the right to react however they choose to what Secretary Perdue said, however that has nothing to do with the accuracy of our reporting his own words about the size of dairy farms going forward, which included this quote [above].”

    Here is the complete, uncut and unaltered text of Holte’s statement issued Oct. 10: 

    Agriculture Must Stand United

    “I am very disappointed by the misleading and inaccurate news stories being shared across Wisconsin, and the country, following Secretary Perdue’s visit to World Dairy Expo.

     Farmers and agriculturists expect and deserve the full truth. Agriculture is normally bipartisan, but recently we have seen the political spotlight turned our direction. This has brought us center stage with the intention of dividing rural Wisconsin. Divisive political strategies are being used to influence farmers in our state. Wading through political rhetoric makes it difficult to find the full truth.

     As a farmer himself, Secretary Perdue genuinely understands the business of agriculture and the challenges we are facing on our farms every day. Secretary Perdue cares about supporting farmers regardless of farm size, so it is unfortunate his comments have been taken out of context to suggest otherwise.

     Wisconsin Farm Bureau represents farms of all sizes, types and commodities and is standing up to demand fair and accurate reporting.

     Farmers and agriculturists need to stand united during these trying times. We need to constantly question whether we have the full truth, or if there is more to the story. Most importantly, we need to support one another.

     I ask farmers and agriculturists to stand with me in giving agriculture a united voice and not allowing a divide to be drawn between us. The future of the agriculture community depends on our teamwork today.

     I ask reporters, or others, who have shared pieces that include inaccuracies about the Secretary’s comments to retract or revise those pieces to more accurately reflect the full context of the conversation.

    Let’s all stand united to support one another and the full truth.”

     

    Melanie Conklin
    Melanie Conklin is proud to be a native of the state of Wisconsin, which gave humankind the typewriter, progressivism and deep-fried cheese curds. Her several decades in journalism include political beats and columns at Isthmus newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal and other publications. When not an ink-stained wretch, she served time inside state, local and federal government in communications. She is excited to be back at the craft of journalism as Deputy Editor of the Wisconsin Examiner. It’s what she’s loved ever since getting her master’s degree in journalism from the UW-Madison. Her family includes one husband, two kids, four dogs and five (or more) chinchillas.

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