Justice for Black Farmers Act introduced in Congress

National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC), Rural Coalition and Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund applauded the introduction of the Justice for Black Farmers Act in the Senate Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The landmark bill provides long-overdue measures to support Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged producers who have faced discrimination and disenfranchisement, often from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself. In a sweeping initiative to restore farmland to the Black community following centuries of land theft, the bill establishes a program of land grants of up to 160 acres to eligible individuals, along with training programs and apprenticeships. The bill also makes structural reforms within USDA, expands funding to a variety of agricultural programs, and protects contract livestock farmers from abuse by meatpacking companies.
Monica Rainge, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund and NFFC Treasurer, said, “The Justice for Black Farmers Act would make real strides in correcting many of the wrongs that Black farming communities have faced for centuries. Growing the number of Black farmers and landowners through land grants, training, and credit will strengthen all of our communities.”
NFFC President and retired Wisconsin dairy farmer Jim Goodman said, “National Family Farm Coalition and our member organizations have worked for decades to address structural inequities and systemic racism that have, in many cases, made it impossible for Black farmers to maintain ownership of their land, or in the case of beginning farmers, to gain access to land. The wide-reaching measures of this new bill from Senators Booker and Warren will provide long-overdue equity and justice for Black farmers.”
Lorette Picciano, Executive Director of the Rural Coalition stated,”This is a strong proposal to redress the decades of historic discrimination and neglect by USDA agencies, commercial lenders and others against Black farmers. The Rural Coalition has been engaged in moving forward these issues on behalf of all people of color farmers and family farmers in general since 1985. We see passage of this legislation as an extension and intensification of work over the years to promote outreach, education, set-asides and other measures in Farm Bills to serve farmers who have faced racial discrimination at the hands of USDA.”
According to the 2017 Ag Census, 3.4 million U.S. farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,500, are Black, down from a peak of nearly one million in 1920. Black farmers own just one-half of one percent of U.S. farmland, and make an average of $40,000 annually. Following a brief period of post-Civil War Reconstruction and Black landownership, a white supremacist campaign of land grabs and terrorism towards Black farmers and landowners across the South drove many off of land and out of the region. In this context, the trend of corporations increasingly buying up U.S. farmland since the 2008 financial crisis, particularly in regions such as the Mississippi Delta, presents additional land access barriers for new and beginning farmers of color. As U.S. land consolidation continues, NFFC has been a vocal critic of corporate farmland ownership and long called for legislative efforts to keep land in the hands of family-scale producers.
NFFC board member Savi Horne, Executive Director of the Land Loss Prevention Project, said, “This comprehensive legislation addresses many levels of obstacles faced by Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers. From introducing large-scale programs like land grants to Black farmers to meaningful reforms clarifying important heirs property provisions, the bill levels the playing field to diversify and strengthen the farming sector and our rural communities.”
The Justice for Black Farmers Act has five components:
• USDA civil rights reforms. Establishes an independent board to oversee civil rights at USDA and an equity commission to investigate USDA’s legacy of discrimination.
• Public land grants to Black farmers. Grants 20,000 160-acre plots to eligible individuals annually from 2021 to 2031. A Farm Conservation Corps will be established to train young people from socially disadvantaged groups in agricultural skills and apprentice with socially disadvantaged, beginning, and organic farmers and ranchers.
• Increased funding for historically Black colleges and universities. Provides $500 million per year to support agricultural study as well as research on regenerative agriculture and market opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
• Land retention protections and credit assistance. Establishes further safeguards to keep minority farmers on their land, and expands access to credit and a pandemic foreclosure moratorium.
• Reforms to USDA and the farm system. These include common-sense provisions to protect contract livestock growers from unfair practices by meatpacking companies; increased funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program; and expansion of conservation and rural energy programs to help farmers and ranchers adopt new practices and respond to climate change.
More detailed information on the legislation is available from Senator Cory Booker’s office and the organizations listed in the story.

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