Senator Jon Tester of Montana Insults US Farmers

  • Published on November 23rd, 2010

Senator Tester (D, Montana) has been pushing an amendment to the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act of 2010 exempting small farms from the bill’s provisions.  The wisdom of this legislation and the amendment are subjects of legitimate debate, but the Senator reveals his actual agenda in this quote:

“Small producers are not raising a commodity, but are raising food. Industrial agriculture takes the people out of the equation.”

So, is Tester saying that most of what American farmers grow is not actually food?  Is he saying the people who grow it are not people?  What is a “small producer?”  Do 40% of Americans need to move back into full time farming for us to have “food?”

Ignorance Revealed

What Senator Tester’s insulting remarks actually reveals is how little he knows about American farming.    He needs to read the statistics that our government tracks showing that the vast majority of American farmland is still in family owned and operated farms (see map below).  He would do well to actually visit some other types of farms that he believes to be “industrial” to see what a great job they do and how hard they work to maintain food safety and quality.  He needs to show a little respect for a community of hard working, risk-taking people that are providing us with excellent, affordable, nutritious food. The broad-brush use of the terms “industrial” and “factory” as slurs against most farmers merely indicates a lack of  familiarity with the diversity and reality of modern farm operations.

Image of Sen. Tester from the US government via Wikimedia

Map from USDA NASS

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About the Author

Born in Denver, now living near San Diego. Agricultural scientist for 30+ years with a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology. Have worked for Colorado State University, DuPont and Mycogen and for the last 13 years consulting for all sorts or companies, universities and grower groups. Experience in biological control, natural products, synthetic chemicals, genetics, GMOs and agronomic practices. Have given multiple invited talks on the interaction between agriculture and climate change (both ways)


  • I grew up (and am writing this) on an *industrial* family farm.. Corn and soybeans. What most farmers grow, family or not, is hardly recognizable as food.. When is the last time you bought a commodity crop in the form the farmer harvested it?

    Scale is absolutely a critical question.. I think Senator Tester is right on in his comments… industrial commodity production completely takes people out of the equation.. all that matters is how much #2 yellow dent corn you haul in. (replace corn with eggs, milk, cheese, etc)

    • Troy,
      You may be a few steps removed from the consumer, but by the time it gets there is is “food.” I buy rice, potatoes, and fresh produce in the form the grower harvests it. The flour I buy is minimally processed from what is harvested

  • I think he is echoing much of what the food movement says and I have to agree lacks the full acceptance of what America’s large farmers produce and who they are. But as small farmer myself, I am very fearful of S510 especially after the fight we just had in Ohio over Issue 2. I don’t want the Federal Government on my farm (period).

    However, as a believer in the free market and (small L) libertarian ideals I believe we need to get the Federal Government out of the agriculture sector. We need a level playing field where small and mid size farmers aren’t blocked and can compete without the stifling moronic regulations, and where large American farmers aren’t confined by global trade agreements that are forcing them to conform to the whims of non-farming wonks from the WTO and Washington. It’s all about just competition and the consumer’s choice.

    Can we all agree that the Fed screws up farming for all sizes! so for me and my farm I oppose S510. I oppose any and all government tyranny. We must have freedom.

    Hopefully Mr. Tester will adjust his paradigm and look at S510, not from the position of big verses small, but freedom verses tyranny.

    • Brian,
      I tend to agree that this bill represents an invasive form of regulation that does no appropriately target the rare bad actors. Still, scale is not the issue except in the ability to detect events on a CDC level.

  • I think you misunderstood what the Senator said and took a meaning other than he intended. Mainly because Senator Tester IS a farmer and still operates his family farm in Montana. Whenever the Senate has a recess he rushes back home and with his wife they farm the land. The property was homesteaded by his grandfather almost one hundred years ago and has remained in his family all these years and is still being worked, so saying he insults US farmers is in error somewhere. He is definitely on the side of farmers, especially small farms. So unless you are making this a story for political reasons, you would do well to contact the Senators office and get an explanation if you think his words are somehow an insult to farmers. Because I know he wouldn’t insult his own occupation.

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