Farm Women United
March 22, 2022
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U. S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D. C. 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack,
Farm Women United is aware of the January 20, 2021, Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.
The stated purpose of the Executive Order includes “. . . advancing equity for all. . . embedding fairness. . . to redress inequities. . . to provide everyone with the opportunity to reach their full potential.” The Executive Order mandates that “...each agency must assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups.” The order defines “equity” as “... the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals. . . .” The Executive Order states that “...The Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shall, in partnership with the heads of agencies, study methods for assessing whether agency policies and actions create or exacerbate barriers to full and equal participation by all eligible individuals.”
These goals all sound noble, and every decent person strives to treat everyone fairly, regardless of race or gender. Federal agencies need to do the same.
In light of this, Farm Women United was shocked and disgusted with the February 10, 2022, revelation that Rick Smith has been appointed to USDA’s newly formed Equity Commission (Commission). Rick Smith’s leadership of Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), and Dairylea prior to that, has been the antithesis of the goals set forth in the Executive Order and the stated purpose of the USDA Equity Commission.
Rick Smith has been an employee of Capper-Volstead “farmer-owned” dairy cooperatives. In his role as CEO, he has excoriated his employers from whom he extracts his income, namely, the dairy farmer-owners of the cooperatives he has worked for, for questioning his actions, raising concerns, or expressing disagreement. It is widely known that Rick Smith has instilled fear in the owners of the cooperatives he has represented, to the point that the owners (dairy farmers) feared losing their milk markets and livelihood if they dared to express a dissenting opinion.
It doesn’t end there. Small, independent dairy cooperatives and bottlers have been and are being bullied, manipulated, and controlled by DFA. Small cooperatives have been steamrolled out of business and gobbled up by DFA. Not only have small entities suffered under DFA’s heel, but even Dean Foods was also run into the ground by DFA, then bought by them using their financially ruined, abused, farmer-owner members' future milk checks as collateral.
DFA has a long history of selling its members' milk at below Federal Milk Marketing Order minimum prices, thereby forcing other small cooperatives to do so as well. Capper-Volstead cooperatives are supposed to seek the best possible price for their farmer-members, not work against them, as Rick Smith has done for decades. Rick Smith is likely the most feared and hated man in the dairy industry.
The notorious negative activities of Rick Smith's DFA are legion and were even brought up at the recent “Reforming America's Food Retail Markets” event hosted at Yale University on March 12, 2022, where the pervasive atmosphere of intimidation of dairy farmers and milk markets under DFA's dark shadow was revealed in stark terms.
Rick Smith’s presence on the Equity Commission is a stain and calls into question the very integrity and purpose of the Commission. Decency demands that one who has done such ruthless harm to dairy farmers be removed from this historic Equity Commission.
Mr. Secretary, you know who Rick Smith is. You drew a nearly one million dollar a year salary on the US Dairy Export Council, seeking more low-cost dairy exports which require that US dairy farmers get paid less than it costs them to produce milk so that the US can “compete” in the world market. Perhaps you think that Rick Smith is a fine choice to serve on this Equity Commission. Judging by how your department stonewalls farmer inquiries, inquiries from other federal agencies, and inquiries from elected officials, we have reason to believe that you and Mr. Smith are two of a kind. We the farmers are outraged by this blatant insensitivity and crass disrespect for the dairy farmers who have suffered abuse institutionalized by Rick Smith's role in the dairy industry. He does not deserve a seat on the USDA Equity Commission!
Numerous media outlets have carried a news release from the African American Agriculturalist Association demanding your resignation as Secretary of Agriculture. Ironically, this statement was dated February 25, 2022, just three days before the first meeting of the USDA Equity Commission, and outlined your mishandling of the Pigford Settlement, failure to address discrimination against black farmers by USDA, and failure to follow through on payments authorized by Congress. All of this casts grave doubt on your intentions. Just as the African American Agriculturalist Association demands your resignation for very serious reasons, if you do not demand Rick Smith's removal from the USDA Equity Commission, so do we.
Chairman of Policy Development
Farm Women United