Vilsack looks to fix black farmers’ mistrust of USDA

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says that the USDA has a long history of discriminating against black farmers. He testified before the House Ag Committee about the state of black farmers in the U.S.

In 1920, 14 percent of farmers were black, now that number has dwindled to just 1.8 percent.

John Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association. He has been calling for a hearing on black farmers for nearly 30 years.

According to Boyd, “We got to this place partly by the United States Department of Agriculture and its discrimination. I can attest that discrimination was alive and well at the Department of Agriculture, and we need to resolve the backlog of complaints. We need to improve program delivery at local offices around the country.”

Phillip Haynie, chairman of the National Black Growers Council, says that the results of generation of discrimination are still visible on farms across America.

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

Lawmakers include $4 billion dollars of debt relief for minority farmers in the American Rescue Plan, but Boyd says that Secretary Vilsack should also prioritize getting black farmers reintegrated into traditional USDA programs.

“Black farmers don’t trust the USDA, which has really hurt us in participation and it’s because of all the discrimination that I and others have faced,” Boyd adds. “We also need to do more to get new and beginning farmers into farm programs at USDA.”

Throughout the hearing, Vilsack answered technical questions about access to USDA programs and committed to making meaningful changes at the department.

Vilsack stated, “We will over the next four years do everything we can to root out whatever systemic racism and barriers may exist at the Department of Agriculture directed at black farmers, socially disadvantaged farmers, and people who live in persistently poor areas in rural America.”

He has also hired a senior advisor on equitability and formed a working group to dig deeper into USDA programs.

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