US Senate candidate Mandela Barnes held a rally and two meetings last Saturday in rural Wisconsin where the issue of big-farming dominance over the state’s family farms has become a major concern.
Along with Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor, rallied residents of Glenwood City, Wisconsin, a small town of some 1,300 residents. about 60 miles east of Minneapolis, around the corporate consolidation issue.
“Workers are facing some of the toughest challenges they’ve ever faced in their entire lives,” Barnes told a group of about 150 supporters. “Our family farmers are being squeezed out by large corporate monopolies that are making it harder for them to compete.”
Jim Hare, a resident of Prairie Farm, Wisconsin, came to listen to Barnes in Glenwood City. He said Newsweek that he spent 25 years working as a beef cattle rancher while engaging with his community as editor of the area newspaper, Hay River Review.
Over the years, he has seen the number of family farms dwindle. Hare said that in the past, a family could send their children to college with income from a farm with a herd of just 40 cows. He said today “you’re lucky” to get by with 150 cows.
“They are monopolies,” said Hare Newsweek. “If a guy has 5,000 cows and a big line of credit in the bank, that means the community he lives in lacks about 50 farmers. If a guy can control 5,000 cows and 10,000 acres, well, all those farms are gone.”
In an exclusive conversation with Newsweek, Barnes said agriculture would be a top priority for him if he wins the Senate race. He hopes to serve on the chamber’s Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, where he could play a role in crafting the country’s next agricultural investment bill, with the current version due to expire in 2023. .
“We have a very solid base, a rich tradition here that the family farm is strong,” he said. Newsweek. “We need to make sure the Farm Bill incentives actually benefit small family farmers, not Big Ag.”
“These conversations about monopolization, antitrust,” he added, “they come up all the time.”
The U.S. agricultural sector has experienced steady consolidation since the late 1980s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that in 1987, 57% of cropland in the United States belonged to medium-sized farms (those who own 100 to 999 acres of land). In 2017, the largest farms (those holding more than 2,000 acres) controlled 58% of this land.
This phenomenon particularly affected Wisconsin’s famous dairy industry. From 2014 to early 2022, the number of dairy cow herds in Wisconsin fell by more than a third, PBS Wisconsin reported. The drop came despite U.S. milk production hitting an all-time high during the same period, according to the USDA.
A poll released Sept. 14 by Marquette Law School showed the Senate race a virtual stalemate, with 49% of likely voters backing current Republican state senator Ron Johnson and 48% favoring Barnes. This represented a significant change from Marquette’s August poll, when Barnes had the support of 52% of voters and Johnson trailed with 45%.
Barnes and Johnson are neck and neck when it comes to garnering support from their parties – 96% of Democrats back Barnes and 97% of Republicans back Johnson. However, among independents, Johnson holds a slim lead, drawing 48% of those individuals to Barnes’ 46%.
But Barnes continues to win the relatability battle, with 44% of voters saying Barnes “better understands the issues faced by ordinary people in Wisconsin,” while 40% said the same of Johnson. Additionally, of those who knew each candidate, 44% said Barnes shared their “values” while 42% thought Johnson shared them.
However, the biggest challenge for Barnes may well be letting people know who he is. Johnson has represented Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate since 2010, while Barnes has only held a statewide post since 2019 in the less visible post of lieutenant governor. When asked to share their feelings about each candidate in the Marquette survey, 25% of voters said they “hadn’t heard enough” about Barnes to share an opinion, while just 11% said said they hadn’t heard enough about Johnson.
Barnes told a group of reporters after the rally that he was not worried about the recent downward trend in the polls. He said he intends to continue to meet with as many people as possible across the state to make sure people know his identity and his message.
“Polls go up and down,” he said. “The thing is, we’re still running everywhere. We’ve always campaigned like we’re five points behind, even in the primaries, and we’re going to keep running around the state, carrying our message about rebuilding the middle. class, providing opportunities for people.”
Barnes stressed throughout Saturday’s events that his side cannot expect turnout in Democratic strongholds Madison and Milwaukee to lead them to victory. In turn, he said they also couldn’t expect rural voters in Republican areas to withhold their support.
The rally in Glenwood City and the subsequent meeting in Black River Falls took place in Wisconsin’s third congressional district, an area that voted for Trump in 2020 and 2016 but opted for Obama in 2012 and 2008. in Wisconsin’s sixth congressional district, an area that hasn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 2008.
Barry Burden, professor of American politics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Newsweek there is hope for Barnes as he continues to deliver a message that puts the economic interests of small business owners at the center of his message.
Burden noted that Tammy Baldwin, Johnson’s Democratic counterpart in the Senate, has had great success in the state focusing on legislation that supports farmers and the needs of rural people. If Barnes is to make Johnson’s seat blue, continuing his engagement on issues such as agricultural consolidation may prove essential.
“Four years ago we had a difficult task ahead of us. [running for lieutenant governor]”, Barnes told Portage fans. “We didn’t think Milwaukee and Madison were going to make a difference. We didn’t think more rural communities wouldn’t show up for us. We had the conversation with anyone who wanted to listen.”
“We’re going to overtake,” Barnes added. “We are going to do even better than four years ago.”