December 21, 2022
Longstanding structural and institutional racism has excluded black, Indigenous and people of color, (BIPOC) from fair access to land, financial resources, information, political standing, and educational and professional opportunities. During the last several years, Congress has passed, and the USDA has implemented numerous policies and initiatives designed to repair harms and prevent future discrimination. For example, the USDA has launched an Equity Commission, part of the USDA’s Equity Action Plan, in part to determine how the Department and its programs may “exacerbate or perpetuate racial, economic, health and social disparities.” Congress has also recently passed initiatives in the Inflation Reduction Act (PL 117–169) to provide debt relief to distressed borrowers of USDA loans and to provide financial assistance to farmers and ranchers who have experienced discrimination. While these initiatives, among others, must continue and should remain unhindered by the Farm Bill reauthorization, there is more work to do to ensure a just food and farm system.
As Congress begins the 2023 Farm Bill reauthorization, it must build on these recent accomplishments by crafting a farm bill that advances racial equity by improving access to USDA funding and programs for underserved individuals and communities, and particularly farmers of color; increasing funding for programs and policies that support underserved communities and particularly farmers of color; and strengthening data collection, analysis, reporting, and transparency to inform racial equity-driven decision-making.
For the 2023 Farm Bill to adequately address racial equity in agriculture and food policy, the bill must include provisions to improve access to USDA funding and programs for farmers of color. Historically, farmers of color have often received and benefitted far less from government agriculture programs compared to white farmers for a variety of reasons. In some cases, USDA outreach did not adequately reach farmers of colors or their communities, resulting in limited knowledge of and engagement in USDA program opportunities. Other farmers of color may have had fewer resources, limiting their capacity to apply for and obtain support from USDA programs. Further still, many farmers of color faced explicit discrimination by USDA, often being excluded from the programs that would have supported their operations. The Pigford cases famously brought to light the discrimination that farmers of color experienced at the hands of USDA.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has since recognized such discrimination, saying in a statement to the House Agriculture Committee in 2021 that, “the systemic racism and discrimination perpetuated against Black Farmers, and the history of discrimination against Black Farmers by USDA [has] prevented numerous African-Americans, among other people of color, from fully realizing the same level of prosperity and success as their white counterparts.” Yet while Secretary Vilsack and the agency have vowed to address these harms, many farmers who were included in the Pigford lawsuits in the late 1990s have yet to see any benefits returned to them.
Each of these barriers has impacted the level of engagement and inclusion of farmers of color in USDA programs. The 2023 Farm Bill is an opportunity to address these barriers and improve equitable access to USDA funding opportunities and programs. NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform includes a number of suggestions to do so, including:
Separate from improving access to USDA programs, NSAC also supports increasing funding to programs that specifically offer resources to farmers of color and other historically underserved communities. These programs offer more tailored resources that take into consideration the unique needs of beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers. For example, the 2018 Farm Bill established the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program (FOTO), which combines the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program, or Section 2501 program. The umbrella FOTO program was a major development in the 2018 Farm Bill because it established mandatory funding for programs that explicitly support socially disadvantaged farmers, including farmers of color, and veteran farmers. The FOTO program supports non-profits and community-based organizations that provide critical technical service and other support services directly to socially disadvantaged farmers. NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform builds on this invaluable program by further supporting increased funding for farmers of color by advancing policies and programs that include:
Consistently collecting data on program applications, participation, and outcomes is critical to ensuring that underserved farmers and ranchers do in fact receive the benefits prioritized for them. Without transparent and timely data analysis, actual impacts for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers cannot be quantified, impeding the potential to make future improvements based on program outcomes. To ensure that USDA funding is equitably distributed and the programs targeting support for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are accomplishing their intended goals, NSAC’s 2023 Farm Bill Platform recommends that USDA:
For too long, socially disadvantaged farmers have faced disproportionate barriers to accessing USDA programs. Congress has a critical opportunity to include key provisions to rectify historical discrimination and to alleviate the barriers to access and funding opportunities for BIPOC and other socially disadvantaged farmers in the 2023 Farm Bill.
For more details on each of these proposals, we invite you to read our 2023 Farm Bill Platform.