Wisconsin farms face a choice in 2024: New markets and more competition vs. budget cuts, millionaire tax breaks, and diesel fumes

By Pat Kreitlow

May 31, 2024

President Biden will talk up rural investments while former President Trump is promising a return to the tariffs and trade wars that made farmers more reliant on assistance.

The agricultural sector is by nature reliant on two big factors out of farmers’ control: the weather and market forces that determine the price they’ll get for all the work they’ve done. But unlike weather, the market can be made more friendly or hostile to farmers through decisions made by elected leaders—and many Wisconsin farmers think far more needs to be done to balance out policies that appear to depress prices for farmers, raise prices for consumers, and prioritize corporate profits for just a handful of large companies.

“Wisconsin’s farmers need a champion more than ever,” Wisconsin Farmers Union president Darin Von Ruden wrote in a CapTimes opinion column last October.

Just in the area of meat, four large meat-packing companies control 85% of the market in the American beef industry, four chicken processing firms control 54% of the poultry market, and four processors control about 70% of the pork market.

The Biden administration has cited these as it touts actions taken to increase competition and strengthen the food supply chain by providing help for more small, local processors to start up or grow. The resulting competition would benefit farmers and consumers.

Ahead of this fall’s presidential election, expect to see the Biden campaign continue to talk up rural economic development awards that aim to provide more energy options and reduce costs.

For former President Donald Trump, a confrontation with China appears to once again be the priority. Trump’s initial trade war caused 2018 US farm exports to plunge from $23 billion to $15 billion—and the resulting taxpayer-funded bailouts went primarily to megafarms.

Trump is also likely to throw the agriculture sector into a sudden whirlwind of uncertainty due to his promise to round up undocumented immigrants–-including farm workers like those in Wisconsin’s dairy industry—and hold them in detention camps before deporting them. Such an effort would likely also stoke fear among documented farm workers, potentially crippling the industry even further.

If Trump wins and gets a Republican-controlled Congress, farmers can also expect to see massive cuts to programs that benefit them and protect the natural resources that allow farms to stay healthy—according to House Republicans’ recently released budget blueprint for 2025.

If the US Senate includes Eric Hovde, who spoke recently at a dairy farm near Athens, there will be a push to attack regulations, which are often key to protecting safety, consumers, and the environment.

A centerpiece of the farm agenda for Republican US Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, is fighting against a new generation of clean energy jobs that could revitalize the rural economy, as he told delegates to the Republican Party of Wisconsin state convention.

“To get a seed to a field, to plant that seed, to nourish it, to get it out, to get that product to market, to process it and to get it to a market,” Van Orden said, “that is all predicated on diesel fuel.”

Van Orden has also expressed interest in shutting Wisconsin farmers out of exporting crops and products to China in order to have a “tougher” foreign policy.

And Van Orden is also a co-sponsor of a resolution to protect a massive tax break for millionaire landowners under the guise of protecting family farms, which would be almost entirely untouched by the proposal.

Beyond the policies that are focused on farms, rural voters will be weighing candidate promises that go well beyond fields, feedlots, and pastures. More will be said during this campaign about rural infrastructure, schools, off-the-farm job opportunities, health care, affordable housing, and protecting benefits like Medicare and Social Security—much of it by the Biden camp as it touts an all-encompassing set of rural accomplishments, seemingly willing to talk about it until the cows come home.

Author

  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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