As part of the Biden administration’s US bailout plan, minority farmers in Minnesota were to receive part of the forgiveness of a $ 4 billion loan to BIPOC farmers nationwide. That is, while some white farmers in the state filed a claim the requirement of the loan forgiveness program is racist.
The Agriculture Department has now suspended its loan forgiveness program until the lawsuit – and claims from Wisconsin, Ohio, and South Dakota – are settled.
However, such funding disruptions are not new to black farmers – colored farmers in Minnesota can see the story of broken promises repeat itself in this lawsuit.
What a lawsuit entails
The lawsuit in question was brought by plaintiffs Steve Nuest, owner of Nuest Farms in Stevens County; Kaylene Dalstead, Arrow D Rancher in Pembina County, North Dakota; Chad Walter, co-owner of the Walter Bros. Family Farm in Brown County; Kevin and Lynel Vetch from Todd County; and Jonathan and Samantha Camm from Roseau County. They filed a lawsuit against Agriculture Minister Thomas Vilsack and Agricultural Services Agency administrator Zach Duchenot.
In general, the plaintiffs disagree with the American bailout plan. loan forgiveness program this includes provisions for the USDA to pay up to 120 percent of the FSA loan balance to any “socially disadvantaged” producer with qualifying credit. In USDA terminology, “socially disadvantaged” includes blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and other colored farmers.
In a statement when the program was announced, Vilsack said The USDA “will provide historic debt relief for disadvantaged farmers and ranchers starting in June.” Vilsack also said that loan forgiveness will be “one of the most important elements of civil rights law in decades. The law requires the Department of Agriculture to pay off agricultural loans to nearly 16,000 minority farmers and begin addressing the long-standing racial equality issues that have plagued colored farmers for generations. ”
But when some white farmers watched the program, they saw racism where Vilsack saw civil rights.
“If the plaintiffs were eligible for the loan forgiveness, they would have the opportunity to make additional investments in their properties, expand their farms, purchase equipment and materials and otherwise support their families and local communities,” the lawsuit says. “Since the plaintiffs are not even eligible to apply for the program solely because of their race, they have been denied equal protection of the law and consequently suffered damage.”
The USDA issued a statement saying the department is considering a lawsuit with the USDA, but the agency plans to continue offering forgiveness for loans to “socially disadvantaged” farmers. Despite this announcement, payments are still suspended.
The plaintiffs state in the lawsuit that “relying on general assumptions of historical discrimination is exactly what the United States did here” and disagree with the expression “socially disadvantaged”, which has an explicit racial classification. They say they are otherwise eligible for the loan forgiveness program, except for their skin color.
But Patrice Bailey, the assistant commissioner who leads the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Emerging Farmers Initiative, doesn’t see it that way.
“[The loan forgiveness program] has nothing to do with punishing white farmers, ”Bailey said. “You still see the same white people receiving grants and applying for grants and receiving grants in that order. [But] the people who need grants the most may not know where to start. … This ensures that there is diversity in this new opportunity, especially from the indigenous tribal nations that have historically not been on this list. ”
Bailey, himself a black farmer, said the lawsuit is just a drop in a sea of setbacks that colored farmers across the country have experienced since the end of the civil war.
This problem is not new
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the federal government made a promise to previously enslaved people, known as the 40-acre and mule promise, in the first systematic attempt to provide a form of reparations that was radical at the time.
The people freed from enslavement and their descendants amassed 19 million acres of land, but when President Andrew Johnson, successor to Abraham Lincoln and sympathetic to the South, took office, he overturned the order granting land to the freed people. The land was largely returned to the plantation owners who originally owned it on the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
Many black people could still farm, but black farmers could be driven out of their lands by force or tax fraud. Some banks were reluctant to finance agricultural equipment. Local branches of the Ministry of Agriculture will also refuse to issue loans to black farmers or detain them. documented in a series of government reports dating back to the 1960s.
In 1910, 14 percent of all operator farmers were black. However, by 2012 this number fell up to 1.5 percent of all farmers.
Inequality persisted for decades, and from 2012 to 2014, white people received 98 percent of all farm-related income from land ownership and 97 percent of income from operating farms. On the other hand, colored farmers accounted for less than four percent of operator farm owners and were more likely to be tenants than owners, which meant they could not generate the same amount of wealth as their farmland counterparts. Hispanics also made up over 80 percent of agricultural workers, which is known to be an underpaid and vulnerable position in American agriculture.
The USDA sent tens of billions of dollars to farmers affected by COVID-19 in 2020, but only one percent of this aid went to “socially disadvantaged producers”. Prior to the American Rescue Plan, the last major payout to black farmers was paid only after class action it started in the 1990s.
Latest agricultural census identified 39 black farmers in Minnesota from nearly 69,000 farms. The state employs a total of 1,267 color farmers, and most of them are smallholders. Nationwide, about 1.3 percent of farmers are black. In Minnesota, that’s 0.03 percent. In 2017 Center for American Progress founded The median income of a full-time black farmer is $ 2,408, compared with $ 17,190 for the average white farmer. The discrepancy may be partly due to the fact that the average planted area of black farmers is about one fourth of the national average…
“It’s time to make sure the 40-acre and mule promise really comes true,” Bailey said. But despite the serious challenges and obstacles he and other colored farmers have faced, Bailey is optimistic. He pointed to legislation that has been passed or is being drafted to support color farmers at both the state and federal levels.
“Being the first color ombudsman in state history at MDA and starting to address these issues is a step in the right direction to remove all of these obstacles,” Bailey said.