Hearing addresses challenges facing Black farmers

A House Ag Committee hearing is discussing longstanding discrimination Black farmers have faced from the USDA and others.

Cornelius Blanding, executive director with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, says many Black farmers have gone out of business because they haven’t received equal access to loans. 

“Most Black farmers get their credit from USDA’s Farm Service Agency, which they’re expected to graduate out of that system in seven years,” he says. “After that they’re supposed to quality for credit in the traditional market. However, that date never comes for most Black farmers, instead they’re relegated to predatory-style credits at best and farming out of their pockets at worst.”   

Phillip Haynie, chairman of the National Black Growers Council, says Black farmers face many inequities.

“As you canvas the country you will often find Black farmers on non-irrigated land trying to compete with their white farmer neighbors that have used USDA programs to put irrigation on their land,” he says. “You will also find black farmers that have not been able to participate in land-leveling and drainage and other USDA programs to improve their farms like their white neighbors.”

He says the council is working with partners, farm advocacy groups, and the USDA to reverse the declining trend of Black farmers and landowners.

First Generation farmer Sedrick Rowe has experienced some of these challenges firsthand.

“I applied for the beginner farmers program and micro-loans and I don’t know why I didn’t get funded,” he says. “It holds me back as a farmer.”

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, speaking during the hearing, committed to doing everything he can to root out systemic racism and barriers at the USDA directed at Black farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and people who live in persistently poor areas in rural America.

John Boyd Jr., founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association; Shirley Miller Sherrod with the Georgia Project for Community Education Inc.; and Arnetta Cotton, owner of Cotton Works LLC also testified.

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