Justice for Black Farmers Act Aims to Address and End Discrimination Within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Encourage New Generation of Farmers

WASHINGTON, D.C. [2/10/21]—This week, Senate Agriculture Committee member U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.)—along with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)—introduced landmark legislation aimed at addressing and correcting historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in federal farm assistance and lending that has caused Black farmers to lose millions of acres of farmland, and has robbed these farmers and their families of the hundreds of billions of dollars of inter-generational wealth that land represented.  

Just over 100 years ago, there were nearly 1 million Black farmers in the United States. Today, due to a history of discrimination, it is estimated that there are fewer than 50,000. The Justice for Black Farmers Act would work to end discrimination within the USDA, protect Black farmers from losing their land, implement systemic reforms to help family farmers across the country, and provide land grants to create a new generation of Black farmers and restore the land base that has been lost.  

“We have to acknowledge that the USDA has a history of institutionalized discrimination against Black farmers and farmers of color. That is the history we cannot look away from,” said Sen. Smith. “At a recent Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, I brought up the need to create equitable credit access for diverse farmers—including the Black, Hmong, Latino and Native American farmers in my state of Minnesota—because these are the types things we need to be working to address. This historic legislation is needed so we can help create a future that empowers more farmers to succeed.”

“At Big River Farms, we see how many farmers of color have additional barriers facing them as they start their farm businesses. In order to have a more just food system, it is critical to support emerging farmers with better access to land, capital, and resources,” said Sophia Lenarz-Coy, Executive Director of The Food Group.

“I am pleased to see Senator Tina Smith take this step with her colleagues on behalf of diverse farmers in Minnesota and across the country. This is an opportunity to deliver justice for historically disadvantaged agriculture communities, and we should seize it” said Naima Dhore, Executive Director of the Somali American Farmers Association.

“For far too long, Black farmers have faced systemic discrimination in USDA programs. Farming is a business of credit—for investment, machinery, livestock, or feed, with the hope for a successful return. But Black farmers were left with little-to-no access to credit, leading to a devastating loss of land and generations of wealth,” said Jess Anna Glover, Executive Director of Land Stewardship Project. “Although rooted in past wrongs, this bill will make all our communities healthier, stronger, and more equitable into the future. It is an actual plan toward a more just farm and food system, as rural communities fight against the oppression of corporate control in agriculture. We are grateful to be in this with Senator Smith and her colleagues. We know our food system cannot be sustainable or resilient without racial justice.”

“One of the biggest barriers historically and currently for the 80,000 tribal producers is access to credit. Many ag credit systems were never designed with tribal producers in mind nor the realities of production and conservation on trust lands. Tribal producers, and all producers, must have access to capital that meets the circumstances surrounding their production, not the other way around. We believe the Justice for Black Farmers Act takes substantial steps towards a more equitable ag credit system,” said Zach Ducheneaux, Executive Directive of the Intertribal Agriculture Council.

 

“The dramatic loss of 900,000 Black farmers over the last century didn’t just happen. Our Department of Agriculture and farm programs systematically limited Black farmers’ access to loans, technical assistance and land grant systems, and to legal rights around land ownership. The Justice for Black Farmers Act is a critical step toward addressing these wrongs and ensuring all are treated fairly by our public institutions and programs,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Rural Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

“The Justice for Black Farmers Act is the most ambitious legislative proposal ever developed to address historic and ongoing discrimination against Black farmers,” said John Boyd, Founder and President of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA). “As NBFA and the Environmental Working Group recently documented, Black farmers have been systemically denied access to land, subsidies, loans and other critical tools through government and private discrimination, and the institutional racism that has driven Black land loss is being reinforced through the USDA’s broken policies. By providing new access to land and credit and providing debt relief, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help right these historic wrongs. By providing new oversight and accountability within the USDA, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history. By making an unprecedented investment in training through historically Black colleges and universities and groups like the National Black Farmers Association, the Justice for Black Farmers Act will ensure that Black farmers have the tools they need to succeed. These reforms are long overdue. We applaud the leadership of Sens. Booker, Warren, Gillibrand, Warnock and Smith, and we urge Congress to act swiftly to address USDA’s long history of discrimination against Black Farmers.”

“The Justice For Black Farmers Act is an incredibly important step towards addressing the harm that Black farmers and land stewards have suffered and continue to endure,” said Dara Cooper, Executive Director of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance. “This is one very important opportunity towards addressing the state of emergency that Black farmers and land stewards continue to face. Considering Black farming communities have been reduced by an alarming 98%, we are sounding the alarm that it is long past due to address the unfinished business that farmer activists have been calling for quite some time. Let us all rally behind this important piece of legislation and make sure it passes. It is the least we can do for Black farmers and our failing food system.”

The Justice for Black Farmers Act would:

  • Take steps to end discrimination within the USDA, such as creating an independent civil rights oversight board to conduct reviews of any appeals of civil rights complaints filed against USDA, to investigate reports of discrimination within USDA, and to provide oversight of Farm Service Agency County Committees;
  • Protect Black farmers from land loss by increasing the funding authorization for the USDA relending program created in the 2018 Farm Bill to resolve farmland ownership and succession, or “heirs property,” issues;
  • Restore the land base lost by Black farmers by creating a new Equitable Land Access Service within USDA;
  • Create a Farm Conservation Corps where young adults from socially disadvantaged communities will be provided with the academic, vocational and social skills necessary to pursue careers in farming and ranching;  
  • Empower HBCUs and advocates for Black farmers;
  • Assist all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers by increasing resources for USDA technical assistance and for programs such as CSP and REAP, and by giving priority for these programs, as well as increased access to capital, to all socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers; and 
  • Reform and strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act in order to stop abusive practices by big multinational meatpacking companies and protect all family farmers and ranchers.

You can access text of the bill here and a summary here.

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