On Jan. 27, the U.S.D.A. announced an immediate moratorium on debt collection and foreclosure for the more than 12,000 farmers who are behind in payments to two programs administered by the U.S.D.A.’s Farm Service Agency — roughly one-fourth of whom are Black or, to use the federally recognized phrase, otherwise “socially disadvantaged.”
Soon thereafter, Senator Raphael Warnock, Democrat of Georgia, introduced (with Mr. Booker, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan) the Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act, which would provide direct relief payments to help socially disadvantaged farmers pay off loan debts. With the active support of the U.S.D.A., Mr. Warnock’s bill, and some provisions of Mr. Booker’s, were then incorporated into the Covid relief bill.
That bill thus now includes $4 billion for direct relief payments that will help farmers of color recover from the pandemic and pay off their U.S.D.A. farm loan debts and related taxes, along with $1 billion to be used in part for addressing the longstanding inequality in access to U.S.D.A. programs.
This help for indebted Black farmers is a great step, but it’s hardly enough — and Mr. Booker and others recognize this. It’s time to also focus on the future, especially on what Black farmers need in order to stay and flourish on the land, and on how to establish new farmers.
A bigger land-grant program may soon get traction in Congress as an attempt to create a new generation of Black farmers. Imagine, for example, the federal government can buy land from farmers cashing out for retirement so that rather than being absorbed by existing large landholders, the land can be redistributed to smaller or beginning farmers of color, under easements that mandate sustainable practices. (An example of how this could work is the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust.)
Let’s note that the new proposals in the pandemic relief bill would serve to integrate Black farmers into an agricultural system that exists at the expense of the land’s original inhabitants. And it’s important to address where “new” land might come from, and how we begin to make amends to Indigenous people, an issue that the people with power these days would still likely prefer to avoid.