After years of setbacks, socially disadvantaged farmers get debt relief
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The U.S. Department of Agriculture has started notifying about 13,000 socially disadvantaged farmers that it will provide loan-repayment assistance from an estimated $4 billion in the American Rescue Plan.
Black and other minority farmers have faced discrimination from both government agencies and businesses. Historically, Black farmers have lost 85% of their land due to racial violence and foreclosures. Reports show that the benefits from the federal bailout given to farmers under the Donald Trump administration — which totaled $28 billion — went primarily to white farmers.
Dewayne Goldmon, senior adviser for racial equity at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sees this loan-repayment program as the first step in closing the economic gap between Black and minority farmers and their white counterparts.
“Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal spoke to Goldmon about the racial disparities in farming and how federal aid can bring greater equity to the industry. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Dewayne Goldmon: As a farmer myself, I can say with a lot of confidence that we would much prefer to get paid from fair market pricing versus some kind of subsidy that is used to supplement unfair pricing, if you will, or downward pressure on markets. And so there are some pretty glaring discrepancies that exist in the support or the subsidies paid to Black farmers versus our white neighbors. And so the awareness about the whole situation is pretty high.
Kai Ryssdal: What winds up happening then is, as Black farmers and other farmers of color face those price pressures, is that their debt mounts. And the [Joe] Biden administration has launched a plan for debt relief for Black farmers. And I wonder what your response is to white farmers who say, in essence, can’t do that, man. If you’re going to provide debt relief, it’s got to be for everybody.
Goldmon: Well, one would argue logically that, well, we’ve had cases that were supposed to deal with that. And they were supposed to deal with that. But they failed to address those cumulative impacts. If you just look at the coronavirus payments alone, you find yourself in a situation where almost 10% of the farmers — those are farmers of color — 10% of the farmers received only 1% of the benefit. And you say what’s the big deal? Well, when you’re talking about a total of $24 to $26 billion, and 10% is only garnering 1% of the payment, I think as a department we should be more equitable than that. So the American Rescue Plan said, OK, we now have a better understanding of this cumulative impact of prior discrimination. We get it. And so paying the debt is really a critical first step in making these farmers whole, so they can be more competitive and we can continue to move forward with a better service to all of our customers.
Ryssdal: So this is a little bit sideways, Dr. Goldmon, but come along with me on this one, and I want to see what you say about it. You know, it’s tricky now for farmers, all farmers. But you know, my experience in reporting has been mostly white farmers, to be completely candid. It’s tricky enough for farmers to get their kids and, and the next generation to come along, right? Because it’s a hard life, you’re dependent on a lot of things. It’s, there’s a lot going on in farming. I wonder what you think the future of Black agriculture is in the United States.
Goldmon: Well, thank you. And if I can go back a little bit to come forward, I would add that, I mean, I can look at myself as an example. I’m 10 of 11 kids. Mom and Dad raised our family on a 300-acre farm. And so we worked a lot, we grew fresh market vegetables, we grew cotton and soybeans. And I grew up in a community where there was some pretty prominent Black farmers. But let’s take another, deeper dive. And I can remember as a kid that there were things that would be a little perplexing to me. And some of those things had to do with why Black farmers in our community operated at a significant disadvantage to white farmers. To a large part, there was a period there where Black farmers really discouraged the kids from continuing in the farm. But let’s fast-forward to today. This group that you’re talking about — farmers in America — make up about 2% of the population, of the American population. Black farmers make up a little less than 2% of that. So we’re talking about a pretty small sliver of folks in the grand scheme of things. But when you look at the impact that these folks have on diversity in agriculture, and in world society, it’s critically important that we get this right because we have to make sure that the agricultural system in our country is as diverse as it needs to be, so that perhaps other folks won’t have to endure the struggles that their parents have. I mean, that’s the real importance of this racial-equity work that we’re undertaking.
Ryssdal: Do you have any kids, Dr. Goldmon?
Goldmon: I have two. Yes sir.
Ryssdal: What are they gonna do?
Goldmon: One is completing a Ph.D. in history, for some reason, Mr. Ryssdal. She’s at Emory University. She’s getting a degree in history.
Ryssdal: Not only is she a history major, but she’s a history major, which I was, at my alma mater. So there you go.
Goldmon: Small world, I’ll have to remind her of that. Let her know that. She’ll be thrilled. But now she’s completing her Ph.D. in history, focusing on Blacks in agriculture. And our son, he’s a landscape designer. He’s living and working in Virginia.
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