The Canadian news program The National, which airs on Canada’s public broadcaster CBC in Canada, recently did a feature story about the dairy crisis in Wisconsin, which President Donald Trump is trying to falsely blame on Canada and their policies regarding trade of ultra-filtered milk from the United States to Canada.
The CBC featured a pair of Wisconsin dairy farm families, the Sauer family of the Waterloo, Wisconsin area and the family of Sarah Lloyd and Nels Nelson of Columbia County. Having watched the video on the CBC website more than once, it’s inherently clear to me that overproduction, not international trade policies, are responsible for Wisconsin’s dairy crisis. Despite the real problems facing Wisconsin dairy, Trump has tried to blame Canada for the struggles that Wisconsin dairy farmers have faced, and it’s clear to me that Trump has no real understanding of how the dairy industry works.
Additionally, as farmer and Wisconsin Farmers Union (WFU) regional director Chris Holman stated on the WFU website, state government policies in Wisconsin have only made the overproduction problem in the Wisconsin dairy industry even worse, and have also led to fewer dairy farms producing more of Wisconsin’s milk:
Here in Wisconsin, state programs like the Grow Wisconsin Dairy 30×20 Initiative have made the situation even worse. Beyond pushing Wisconsin dairy farmers to reach 30 billion pounds of milk production by 2020, the initiative—with no sense of irony—provides grants “to improve the long-term viability of Wisconsin’s Dairy Industry.” If you dive into data from USDA and the Wisconsin Agricultural Statistic Service, we’ve lost 2,411 dairy farms since March 2012 when the 30 x 20 initiative was announced. That’s an average of almost 500 dairy farms per year. We are growing our production but it is being done by fewer and fewer, larger farms.
The Wisconsin Farmers Union is an organization that seeks to improve the quality of life of family farmers and rural communities in Wisconsin.
Trump can blame Canada and sing the Green Acres theme song all he wants, but it’s not going to change the fact that he doesn’t understand the real problems facing Wisconsin’s dairy farm families.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
The 1980’s was not a good decade for American midwestern family farmers by anyone’s imagination. In fact, for much of the 1980’s, the Upper Midwest was in the grip of a crippling farm crisis that drove thousands of family farmers off of their land and drove many to take their own lives.
In 2017, the suicide rate among male farmers in the United States is much higher than it was during the 1980’s:
The National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wis., tracked farm suicides during the 1980s in the Upper Midwest, the region most affected by the farm crisis, to try to better understand the relationships between the farm economy and suicide.
They found that 913 male farmers in the region committed suicide during that decade, with rates peaking in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 male farmers and ranchers.
Compare that with this year’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males. This means that suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50 percent higher than they were in 1982, at the peak of the farm crisis.
(Emphasis is mine; I was not able to find a 1982 figure for suicide rates among the overall farmer and rancher population.)
There are major reasons why the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers is so high. First, crop prices are low to the point that farmers are not getting a fair price for their crop and rural communities that are dependent on the agricultural industry are suffering as a result of it. Second, farmers and ranchers have been effectively abandoned by both major political parties: most, but not all, farmers and ranchers in the United States vote for Republican political candidates, but Republican agricultural policies negatively impact family farmers and ranchers, and most Democratic elected officials who remain in office represent heavily-urbanized political constituencies, so the Democratic Party has increasingly ignored the legitimate concerns of rural voters.
Something is seriously wrong in rural America when the suicide rate among those who produce our nation’s food is extremely high.
Republican U.S. Senator Joni Ernst of Iowa gave a vague response to the State of the Union Address last night, in which Ernst talked about her life story for nearly half of her short speech, and then used typical GOP talking points about a handful of issues without going into much detail about the issues she did talk about (which there weren’t many of). It’s worth noting that, immediately after Ernst’s speech, Ernst was not trending on Twitter in my neck of the woods, which gives you a general idea of how her speech was viewed by the American people (i.e., they didn’t care).
One remark that Ernst made in her speech that did get quite a bit of attention, however, was her story of wearing bread bags on her shoes while going to school as a child. However, what Ernst didn’t mention is that Republican policies likely played a role in Ernst’s family being poor. Ernst was born in 1970, which meant that Ronald Reagan, whose trickle-down economic policies, which Ernst and the rest of the far-right Republicans support, led to rampant income inequality in this country, was president for much of her childhood. In fact, for much of the 1980’s, rural America was in the midst of a farm crisis caused by, among other factors, Reagan’s economic policies, and Iowa was one of the states that was greatly affected by the farm crisis.
You can watch my own response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address here.