The difficulties of being a Black farmer — it’s something we’ve covered in-depth here on ABC Action News during the past few months. Black farmers have long complained of institutional racism and an environment that makes it harder for them to work. Now, the government is stepping in and trying to save as many farmers of color as possible through debt relief.
ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill is breaking down what this means for Black farmers in the Tampa Bay area and why one local farmer says this is long overdue.
Black farmers in our area say they’ve been impacted by a history of institutional racism that has contributed to their disappearance. Many Black farmers are in a cycle of debt they blame on a lack of access to grants, resources and the markets to sell their products.
Now, the U.S. government says they will forgive the loans of farmers of color for up to 120% — this, in an effort to help farmers of color maintain their land.
“So, by doing that, it gives them a level playing field,” said Courtney Wilson from the Florida Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association.
Wilson grew up farming. He says debt forgiveness can right many of the wrongs committed against farmers of color.
“If they relieve the debt from them, I’m happy for them because then that farmer has a chance to continue their family farm and, at the same time, get the little ones into farming.”
The money will come from the American Rescue Plan, passed along with the last COVID-19 relief bill. Of the $10.4 billion supporting American agriculture, about $5 billion will go toward debt relief, grants and education for socially disadvantaged farmers.
Wilson says, though this is a step in the right direction, he wishes something could be done for the Black farmers who already lost their land.
“If they have some debt, or they just lost the property, but the bank still has it in their inventory, I think they should use that money to pay the bank their money and give the property back to the individual.”
According to the Census of Agriculture, 100 years ago, in 1920, there were about 13,000 Black farm operators in our state. Today, that number sits at about 2,000. That’s a 74% decrease. Over the past 100 years, Black farmers in the United States have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland.
Though many Black farmers still have a lot of distrust for the government, they’re hoping that this is a step toward an industry that’s more equitable to all farmers.
“If we can get the same playing field. Same opportunities. We don’t want you to give us nothing, but what we earn, we want to be able to keep it,” said Wilson.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says they want to get debt relief out to Black farmers as soon as possible. It does become more difficult when private lenders are involved. However, they say they’ve sent out a letter telling lenders to withhold foreclosures on loans to minority farmers.