National Program Coordinator, NFFC
Appropriations Amendment S.A 1098 Obstructs Crucial USDA Farm Lending Programs for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers
SEPTEMBER 15, 2023, WASHINGTON, DC – The National Family Farm Coalition, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund (Federation), and Farm Aid jointly condemn the amendment made by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) that would undermine efforts intended to combat racial discrimination in the US agriculture system, through US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) programming and services. This amendment (S.A. 1098), made to the House appropriations bill H.R. 4366, is an alarming overreach meant to undo decades of progress providing equitable credit opportunities for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers who have been unjustly harmed by racial discrimination.
Cornelius Blanding, Executive Director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, said: “We are extremely concerned by Senator Lee’s recent amendment and all attacks on efforts to reverse the devastating impact race-based discrimination has had on our Nation as a whole. The only way we can fulfill the Constitution’s promise of equality is to first achieve equity which means we must consider the disparate access different groups have had to public services. We have a major responsibility to ensure Black farmers have fair and equitable access to credit. Our country is at its best when all communities have the opportunity to realize the American Dream.”
The Farm Service Agency is often the only available lender that provides access to critical agricultural credit for farmers and ranchers unable to obtain loans from private lenders, especially for farmers of color, and Black farmers in particular. The history of racial discrimination within USDA and FSA programs is well documented — a 2022 study estimated that USDA discrimination contributed to more than $320 billion in lost Black wealth. Farmers of color continue to face hurdles while seeking loans to fund their farm businesses. In 2020, only 37% of FSA loan applications submitted by Black farmers were approved, compared to 71% of applications submitted by white farmers. Without funding to support loan programs that address racial discrimination, many farmers and ranchers will be forced to leave the agricultural sector, worsening an increasingly consolidated US food and farm system.
NFFC Board President Jim Goodman said, “The National Family Farm Coalition has long advocated for necessary reforms to FSA credit opportunities, and insisted that among those reforms is an end to the historic discrimination against farmers of color. This proposed amendment would erase important progress that has given thousands of farmers and ranchers a chance to succeed in a system that has been rigged against them for generations. Congress has a duty to protect equitable lending opportunities for historically underserved farmers and therefore must strike this amendment.”
The proposed amendment explicitly eliminates funding for all FSA and USDA loan programs that use race as a criterion for eligibility. For many farmers of color, these loan programs are their only feasible opportunity to sustain their businesses. Most farmers take out annual operating loans to buy the supplies and equipment required to plant their crops and maintain their herds. Eliminating funding for programs that create avenues for farmers of color to obtain equitable loans would be catastrophic to their livelihoods and to the communities nationwide that these farmers feed and support.
“The future of agriculture and our rural communities depends on having a diversity of farmers on the land. It is therefore essential to ensure that farm programs equitably serve all farmers, particularly farmers of color who face significant obstacles in accessing the credit and support farmers need to thrive.” said Farm Aid executive director Carolyn Mugar.
Farmers and rural communities cannot afford to lose USDA and FSA programs that protect equitable access to agricultural loans. We demand that the Senate Appropriations Committee remove this devastating amendment (and overreach) from their appropriations bill, and that Congress affirm its commitment to socially disadvantaged farmers and farmers of color by supporting the equitable loan opportunities found within the USDA and FSA.
Since 1986, the National Family Farm Coalition has been mobilizing family farmers and ranchers to achieve fair prices, vibrant communities, and healthy foods free of corporate domination. Today, NFFC’s 31 member groups span 44 states and represent family farmers, ranchers, and fishing people across the United States. To learn more, visit www.nffc.net
The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund is a 56-year-old cooperative association of Black farmers, landowners, and cooperatives. The Federation’s mission is to be a catalyst for the development of self-supporting communities through cooperative economic development, land retention, and advocacy across the Southern Region. For more information, visit www.federation.coop
Farm Aid’s mission is to build a vibrant, family farm-centered system of agriculture in America. Farm Aid artists and board members Willie Nelson, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews and Margo Price host an annual festival to raise funds to support Farm Aid’s work with family farmers and to inspire people to choose family farm food. For more than 35 years, Farm Aid, with the support of the artists who contribute their performances each year, has raised more than $70 million to support programs that help farmers thrive, expand the reach of the Good Food Movement, take action to change the dominant system of industrial agriculture and promote food from family farms. www.farmaid.org.