Wisconsin Agriculture Agenda

Farmers and consumers working for cleaner water in Wisconsin.

As advocates for Wisconsin’s water, we recognize that current methods of controlling agricultural water pollution cannot meet our ecological and public health goals. We need transformative policies that support our food system without harming water resources.

River Alliance of Wisconsin gathered experts from sectors across our food system to listen to their ideas for improving the way we grow food and support farmers. Their collaboration led to the Wisconsin Agriculture Agenda.

Explore the following actionable steps and resources to help create a food system in Wisconsin that protects water, supports farmers, and produces abundant healthy food.

Reform Crop Insurance to Incentivize Conservation

As it’s currently done, federal crop insurance encourages harmful farming practices, from monoculture row crops and farm consolidation to large-scale pollution in the Mississippi River basin and Gulf of Mexico. This program discourages innovation and mainly benefits large operators with low climate resilience.

Insurance should cover uncontrollable disasters without promoting harmful practices. Reforms in the Farm Bill should cap eligibility based on income and encourage farmers to avoid high-risk behaviors that threaten water quality.

Change Lending Practices to Reward Water Protection

Lenders are crucial for farmers, but current loan conditions can limit conservation efforts. Few lenders understand the economic and environmental benefits of protecting soil and water.

Lenders have the power to offer better rates for farmers who protect water and leverage federal funds to support sustainable agriculture. And changing insurance and appraisal practices to reflect the long-term benefits of conservation would be a win-win-win: it supports farmers, allows banks to profit, and enhances environmental protection.

Develop New Institutional Purchasing Policies

Large institutions like colleges, prisons, and military bases buy large amounts of food, often prioritizing cost over source. Policies that prioritize consistent, cheap supply usually favors environmentally harmful or imported food.

Institutions can address this by choosing local, sustainably produced food. The state legislature can support this by changing procurement rules. Professional food systems managers can handle the complexities, and educating consumers about seasonal availability can further ease the transition.

Support Land Access for Young and BIPOC Farmers

Farm consolidation, high commodity prices, and low interest rates have increased competition for farmland, pressuring older farmers to sell. Forty percent of U.S. farmland is rented, and deep-pocketed investors are becoming the largest land owners. This harms farmers who are young, beginning, or who are Black, Indigenous and people of color who lack capital.

Maintaining diverse farms in size, production, and ownership is crucial to preventing the conversion of Wisconsin’s land to large, conventional megafarms. Providing direct assistance to disadvantaged farmers and building support networks fosters a resilient and regenerative food system.

Uncouple Rural Health Care Access from Employment

Rural healthcare access is a crucial way to support farmers who engage in conservation work. Water stewardship requires significant time and effort, and many small-to-midsize farmers rely on a second job or a partner’s off-farm work for health insurance. A low number of clinics in rural Wisconsin make health care even less accessible.

Improving public insurance access, decoupling insurance from employment, and building more rural medical facilities would help farmers focus on farming, resist selling out to larger operations, and sustain their work on soil and water health.

Reduce Food Waste

Thirty to forty percent of food produced in the U.S. is produced, but not consumed. This causes carbon emissions and water contamination without benefit. While food waste occurs throughout the production system, 43% happens in households.

Reducing food waste would significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions, nitrate pollution, and the use of chemicals, fertilizers, and energy in farming. This change starts with household education but also requires legal reforms to increase the cost of waste for producers and retailers.

Rebuild the Economic Stability of Rural Towns

When Wisconsin’s diverse family farms are replaced by a few large operations, rural towns suffer. Fewer people lead to the decline of main street businesses and essential services like health clinics. Treating farming as an extractive industry is causing irreversible changes to our rural life and landscape.

Supporting farmers to live and work on their land, buy from local retailers, and creating policies that resist farm consolidation can slow this trend. Additionally, the rise in remote work is bringing non-farmers to rural areas, which could benefit communities if proper infrastructure supports rural life for more families.