Plan to Prioritize and Empower Wisconsin’s Family Farms

Wisconsin’s family farms are the backbone of our state. Farming contributes over $100 billion annually to the state’s economy and provides 435,000 jobs. They are an integral part of our communities, our history, and our economy. But we’re losing family farms at a devastating rate thanks to huge corporations whose fancy lobbyists have stacked the deck against small farms and meat processors. 

Despite all that our farmers do and have done for our state, Wisconsin’s family farms face an unprecedented set of challenges: a rigged economy in which Big Ag gets government subsidies and unfair control over the markets; skyrocketing costs of doing business, from health care to internet to the rising costs of credit; and a broken U.S. Senate that won’t pass simple fixes that would have a meaningful impact on the lives of farmers.

Our small and medium-sized farms deserve better than the self-serving politicians in Washington like Ron Johnson who only deliver for wealthy special interests, corporations, and people in their tax bracket, including large meat processing plants, CAFOs, and big companies who ship jobs overseas with zero consequence. 
The story of the struggles and challenges Wisconsin farmers face is a trend we see across industries, thanks to politicians like Ron Johnson who sell out small businesses and workers to support his wealthy donors’ bottom line. Thanks to tax laws that reward offshoring, factories like the ones my dad and grandad worked in sit empty or have been converted to strip malls. And thanks to lawmakers who prioritize Big Ag, Wisconsin has lost 40,000 dairy farms over the past 40 years.

We shouldn’t accept this as inevitable. I believe that better is possible, and I’m ready to fight for the future we deserve. That’s why as Lt. Governor, I’ve spent time in every county in the state and worked for the last four years to give small and medium-sized farms a fair shot. 

Wisconsin was once a leader in innovative agriculture. Today, I’m proud to release my plan to prioritize and empower small and mid-sized family farms and meat processors. Together, we can put Wisconsin back on top to lead the nation in climate-smart agriculture that gives every farmer and working family a fair shot at the American Dream. 

As your next U.S. Senator, I will:

  • Crack down on Big Ag monopolies and their anti-competitive practices that have put Wisconsin farmers and local meat processors on the back foot and raised prices for consumers.
  • Increase access to health care – including care for mental health and addiction – to ensure every farmer has access to the care and resources they deserve. 
  • Push for accessible targeted investments and grants that will provide high speed internet access to farmers and families in rural areas of Wisconsin.
  • Crack down on Chinese government-backed firms that purchase American farmland so we can keep Wisconsin farmland in the hands of Wisconsin farmers. 
  • Fight for transparency in food and dairy labeling to lower costs and level the playing field for Wisconsin farmers. 
  • Take bold action to address climate change and extreme weather events which have already impacted Wisconsin’s family farmers. 
  • Support legislation providing a pathway to citizenship for immigrant farm workers to address the labor shortage and ensure safe and legal working conditions for all Wisconsinites. 

Thank you for reading this plan. If you have any thoughts or feedback, you can reach me at to let me know your thoughts.

–– Mandela Barnes

Cracking Down on Big Ag Monopolies

Right now, the deck is stacked against small and mid-sized family farms. Big Ag continues to buy political power and influence as family farmers deal with the negative consequences of corporate consolidation. 

Whether through vertical integration that eliminates competition in the supply chain, mergers and acquisitions that lead to price fixing, or hijacking government programs meant to aid small farmers against large corporations, our government has been asleep at the wheel, to the tune of tens of thousands of small farms lost over the last four decades. In addition, subsidies tend to disproportionately benefit the wealthiest farmers and we have a tax system that unfairly punishes small and mid-sized family farms. 

American farmers are also facing increasing pressures from abroad, as Chinese government-backed firms have dramatically accelerated their purchase of American farmland, and subsequently are collecting taxpayer subsidies. Foreign purchases of agricultural real estate makes it harder for new farmers trying to get started and drives up the cost of doing business.

It’s time for Congress to finally stand up for family farmers, and that’s what Mandela intends to do in the U.S. Senate. 

  • Mandela will reform the distribution of federal agricultural subsidies to prioritize family farmers instead of Big Ag corporations and monopolies. 
  • Mandela will fight to eliminate the barriers to entry that prevent small and mid-sized farms and meat processors from applying for grants — including initial study fees or lengthy applications that prevent rural townships without broadband access from being able to apply. 
  • Mandela will lead the charge to end the estate tax on small family farms, which constitute 91% of all US farms. While the estate tax is a valuable tool to help fight increasing wealth inequality in our country, its provisions on farmland disproportionately punish small farmers who want to pass their land down to future generations.
  • Mandela will strengthen antitrust laws by allocating more resources to the Department of Justice to enforce existing laws and working to ensure that agricultural cooperatives prioritize the interests of their farmer members over their own profits.
  • Mandela will crack down on Chinese government-backed firms’ accelerated purchases of American farmland, and work to end taxpayer subsidies towards agricultural businesses funded by foreign governments.

Holding Big Ag Accountable and Lowering the Cost of doing Business

For too long, Washington has let Big Ag monopolies rig the system to maximize their bottom lines. Meanwhile, rising costs have disproportionately harmed family farmers with shortages in essentials like fertilizer.  

Mandela knows how hard our farmers work to provide the highest quality products made right here in Wisconsin. They deserve laws and regulations that give them a fair shot to compete insteading of prioritizing big corporations — and help them weather changes in the global economy. 

That’s why Mandela will focus on rewarding Wisconsin’s family farmers who value honest labeling and hard work to get the job done.

  • Mandela will fight for key additions to the 2023 Farm Bill, including provisions to address the problems of dairy oversupply, uplifting Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs, and increasing funding for the USDA Farm to School program.
  • Mandela will push for transparency in food and dairy labeling by supporting Senator Tammy Baldwin’s Dairy Pride Act. 
  • Mandela will also lead the charge to redefine “Product of the USA” standards to prevent corporations that slaughter and process their meat abroad then package it in the U.S. from being able to mislead consumers. 
  • In the Senate, Mandela will crack down on anti-competitive practices and bolster our national security to prevent cyber attacks that disrupt our food supply chains. 
  • Mandela will support transparent cattle pricing for small and medium-sized cattle producers.

A Fair Shot for Wisconsin Farmers

Wisconsin’s small and mid-sized farms and meat processors have been put on the back foot due to self-serving politicians who have been bought by Big Ag’s highest bidders. 

And while politicians like Ron Johnson give Big Ag monopolies handouts, small and mid-sized farmers face mounting challenges. That includes high costs for health care and a lack of mental health care providers. More than 180 rural health centers have closed since 2005, while farmer suicides have increased by 40% in the past 20 years. The suicide rate among male farmers is 58% higher than the national rate. And rural areas have been disproportionately hard hit by the opioid epidemic.  

Rural areas are also struggling with gaps in high speed internet access, and corporate monopolies who pollute our communities without fear of any consequences. Like small businesses across the state, small and medium-sized farms also struggle to access the capital they need to support and grow their business. 

Mandela knows Wisconsin’s family farms and meat processors work hard and play by the rules. In the Senate, he’ll fight to ensure Congress prioritizes their needs over the needs of self-serving bad actors.

  • Mandela knows small farms need more access to affordable credit. In the face of the Federal Reserve’s interest hikes to fight inflation, Mandela will support legislation that maintains small farmers’ access to essential financing. 
  • Mandela will expand access to quality, affordable health care, and greater access to telehealth. No farmer should have to go without regular check-ups or care in an emergency due to a lack of rural health care centers. 
  • Mandela will fight for increased investments to spread awareness and expand resources for farmers struggling with their mental health.
  • Mandela will ensure people in every corner of Wisconsin have access to high speed internet.

Addressing Climate Change to Stop Extreme Weather Events

Climate change has already had a devastating impact on Wisconsin’s family farms. Mandela knows that farmers are the first to experience the consequences of droughts, floods, and extreme temperatures. 

As the son of an auto worker who built catalytic converters on the assembly line after the passage of the Clean Air Act, Mandela also knows that addressing climate change can create economic opportunity throughout the state. 

He’ll fight for policies that go further than stopping bad actors from polluting Wisconsin’s environment – Mandela will lead the charge for legislation that rewards the best and motivates the rest. 

  • Mandela will work to expand the USDA’s Rural Energy for America Program, which will help to address greenhouse gas emissions, and also bring down the cost of energy for Wisconsin families and farmers.
  • Mandela will push for the creation of a labeling system to inform consumers of products that require less carbon to produce and manufacture.
  • Mandela will be a leader in the effort to move the U.S. towards net zero carbon pollution by 2050.
  • Mandela will push to eliminate fossil fuel production subsidies. 
  • Mandela will support legislation to reward farmers for innovative and solutions-oriented climate practices, including organic farming, regenerative agriculture, and no-till farming.

Supporting Immigrant Farm Workers to Address the Labor Shortage

The members of Wisconsin’s immigrant community are significant contributors to our state’s economy, food industries, and culture. Fully 40% of Wisconsin’s dairy farm workers are immigrants. 

In the Senate, Mandela is committed to fighting for a pathway to citizenship for immigrant farm workers to ensure safe and legal working conditions that will boost the economy and help address the labor shortage farms and small businesses are facing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Mandela will support legislation that provides a pathway to citizenship.