Out of the frying pan…into the fire.

Gil Gutknecht weighs in on Iowa Rep. Steve King, Land O' Lakes, and the future of the dairy industry in this exclusive column.

(Farm Journal, Inc)

Just days before the election, liberal activists accused Iowa Congressman Steve King of being a White Nationalist Racist. Within hours, Land O’ Lakes repeated the slur, announcing that they would no longer support King’s re-election efforts because he “doesn’t uphold our company’s values.”

Why would a respected dairy cooperative based in Minneapolis decide to pile on and add credibility to an eleventh hour, partisan attack on Congressman King? King is a respected, senior member of the House Agriculture Committee. He could one day become the Chairman. He is well liked by his colleagues. He says what he means and means what he says. He may be colorful and outspoken. King supports the America First agenda. But, he is definitely not a racist.  

King is likely aware of something President Kennedy said so many years ago, “Always forgive your political enemies…but never forget their names.” 

Not only is Rep. King unlikely to forget a cut like this, neither are his colleagues. People who lobby for trade subsidies and generous federal programs usually choose their enemies wisely. They asked for trouble. They may get more than they bargained for. 

So, why did Land O’ Lakes take such a risk with this sucker punch? They could have stayed out of this fight. But, they eagerly piled on.

One plausible answer is that they were duped. Duped by a couple of liberal activists and their bots, making it look like thousands of people were going to boycott Land O’ Lakes cottage cheese if they didn’t immediately rebuke their support for Congressman King. 

They simply panicked. 

CNN recently hosted a panel to discuss why white women Trump voters must be White Nationalist Racists. No word yet from Land O’ Lakes on separating themselves from either CNN or rebuking white women Trump voters. 

A less likely, but far more sinister reason may be that they saw an opportunity to silence someone who has been a thorn in their side and send a subtle message to anyone who wants to actually enforce our immigration laws.

As mentioned, Land O’ Lakes is a cooperative. It is owned and controlled by its members. It’s members are mostly dairy farmers. These people are hard working, salt of the earth people. They meet those cows twice a day, 365 days a year. It is hard not to have a warm place in your heart for dairy farmers. Here in the upper Midwest we still have many small, family owned dairy farms. They seldom take a vacation and are great people. 

But, those small Norwegian and Dutch dairy farmers are going away. They are being replaced by very large factory farms. Instead of milking 60 cows, these new mega farms milk thousands. They are well capitalized and very efficient. Markets reward the most efficient producers, so any free market capitalist can appreciate this trend. 

But now comes the rub and the problem for dairy cooperatives, especially Land O’ Lakes. While they continue to behave like they are defending the interests of the small dairy farmers, in truth they have become the defenders of the big guys. The big boys rely on cheap, largely illegal labor to milk their cows. This lowers their costs and helps the big boys drive out the smaller, family owned operations. The dirty little secret is that many of the factory farms have a business model that is predicated on breaking the law. Without illegal labor, their business models won’t work. Any business model that is predicated on breaking the law is a failed business model. Just ask Al Capone. The executives at Land O’ Lakes certainly know this.

Along comes an outspoken Congressman from Iowa who actually believes that we should enforce our immigration laws. He speaks of it often. Worse, he really means it!

This is dangerous talk to the corporate dairy operations and the cooperative execs who defend them. They understand that this could bring down their entire house of cards. Until the election of Donald Trump, they could count on Republican leaders like Paul Ryan to protect their scheme. 

Not any more. 

So, outspoken defenders of small farmers and our national borders must be silenced. When the Democrats played the racist card against Rep. King, Land O’ Lakes eagerly joined the chorus. They were apparently unaware that Congressman King has the ear (and the back) of the President of the United States. They are lock step on immigration policies. Enemies of Steve King could become enemies of the Don. 

Not good. 

They should also fear a backlash among their members. Small dairy farmers are not happy. They believe that the well paid executives in Minneapolis no longer represent their interests. The next election for board members could get ugly and the big boys could lose their grip. Senior executives could be replaced. There are still more Davids than Goliaths.

Their actions may also put Land O’ Lakes under a microscope. It may invite a much more intensive look at the business models and practices of the dairy industry. Should these factory farms be eligible for taxpayer subsidies? What does a farm that milks thousands of cows do when ICE shows up for an inspection and most of their workers run out the back door? Those cows still have to be milked. And a much more dangerous question (that may be of interest the DOJ). Were the actions of Land O’ Lakes part of a larger conspiracy to break our immigration laws? 

Perhaps in a ham-fisted attempt to be politically correct and/or to silence one member of Congress, they have opened Pandora’s box, pushing them out of the frying pan into the fire. Congressman King won on Election Day. 

For Land O’ Lakes, the jury is still out. 

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Gil Gutknecht served six terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota. While in the House he served as Chairman of the Ag Subcommittee that oversaw dairy programs. He writes about healthcare and political issues of the day.

Gil Gutknecht

Gil Gutknecht is a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.