Wisconsin Farmers Union film decries monopoly control of food chain, erosion of family farms

CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WKBT) — The Wisconsin Farmers Union takes a hard, analytical look at the U.S. food system in a new short film titled, “Get Loud: The Fight for the Soul of Agriculture.”

The film’s core question is, “What kind of food system do we want?” It is part of the WFU’s Rural Voices project, which is lifting up rural perspectives.

“The current food system is not serving farmers, laborers in the supply chain, nor consumers,” said Danielle Endvick, communications director of the Chippewa Falls-based organization.

“Instead, it’s serving a handful of powerful monopolies who control nearly every aspect of the food supply chain and incentivize consolidation and concentration,” Endvick said.

“We are at this fork in the road where we can either restore some vibrancy to rural America or we can continue down the path we’re on,” she said.

The eight-minute film advances the theory that a decline in the vitality of rural communities coincided with concentration in agricultural and retail food markets, with family farms bearing the brunt of the burden.

“There’s a concentration crisis in America,” said Austin Frerick, deputy director of the Thurman Arnold Project on competition policy and antitrust enforcement at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.

“We’ve seen the collapse of a lot of family farmers — first in hogs, then in dairy, and now, it’s happening in beef,” Frerick said.

“Farmers are being both squeezed on the input and output side,” Frerick adds. “So when they buy their seeds and when they buy their fertilizer, both of which are super concentrated, they’re paying monopoly prices for it. Then when they go to sell, they are selling to monopolies. So not only are they overpaying but then they’re getting underpaid.”

Dunn County sheep farmer Lauren Langworthy points out in the film that farmer movements helped usher in Progressive Era trust-busting and economic reforms.

“There was this massive amount of consolidation and the people rose up and they said no more of this,” said Langworthy, and WFU Special Projects Director.

“We’re in that moment again and we have this huge opportunity. We have the laws we need on the books, we just need to be enforcing them,” Langworthy said.

Concentration in Agriculture also has been a priority issue for the National Farmers Union, which kicked off a Fairness for Farmers campaign in 2021.

The Wisconsin Farmers Union is encouraging members to lend their voices to a growing national conversation on antitrust and monopoly power.

“We do need to get a little bit loud about this issue,” Endvick said. “Reach out to your legislators and demand some change. A big step is educating ourselves and consumers.”

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