The Senate Agriculture Committee, which includes U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), earlier this week introduced landmark legislation aimed at addressing the historic discrimination against Black farmers.
The new legislation seeks to correct historic discrimination within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in federal farm assistance and lending that 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.
Just over 100 years ago, there were nearly one 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.
“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,” said Ben Lilliston, Director of Rural Strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.
“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. The Justice for Black Farmers Act will help address the roots of the USDA’s racist history,” said John Boyd, founder, and president of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA).
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.