Debt relief for Black farmers and other farmers of color

Three men stand with signs in front of a tractor.
Farmers Loyd Johnson (L), Hezekiah Gibson (C) and Henry King (R) from Manning, South Carolina, stand by a farm tractor during a National Black Farmers Association protest in front of the Department of Agriculture August 22, 2002 in Washington, DC. The Department of Agriculture agreed to pay black farmers $50,000 each as part of a 1997 settlement of a class action lawsuit concerning discriminating loan practices, but the National Black Farmers Association claims that some of farmers have yet to be paid, sparking ongoing protests.
Mark Wilson | Getty Images 2002

Farmers of color are set to get unprecedented help this month. The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans $4 billion in debt relief as part of the latest pandemic stimulus package.

The debt relief is designed to address a well-established history of discrimination against Black, Indigenous and other farmers of color.

Studies going back to the 1920s have documented how little access to government help farmers of color have had compared to their white counterparts. During that same time period, the proportion of Black farmers in the U.S. has shrunk from 14 percent in 1920 to just under 2 percent in 2017.

But there are some who oppose the deal. Banks are upset that they won’t make as much money if farmers of color are allowed to pay off the debt early. Some white farmers are suing to get the USDA to remove the race classification from the program, saying it’s reverse discrimination.  

Meanwhile, many Black farmers say the program doesn’t go far enough and that they are skeptical that the payments will actually materialize.

Tuesday, host Kerri Miller and two experts discussed why the program is needed and what it means for farmers who’ve struggled to make the system work for them. 

Guests:

  • John Boyd Jr. is a fourth-generation Black farmer, businessman and civil rights activist. He is the founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association.

  • Thomas Mitchell is a professor of law and co-director of the program in real estate and community development law at Texas A&M University School of Law.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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