Black Texas farmers hopeful new Biden administration aid will level the field

HOUSTON – A new effort by the Biden administration aims to right what civil rights advocates say is a century or mistreatment of Black farmers by the federal government.

As part of the American Rescue Plan, about $5 billion will go to disadvantaged farmers of color and pay off burdensome debts that have prevented many from making a living and investing in land access, outreach, education, assistance overcoming barriers to access to United States Department of Agriculture programs.

“This is certainly going to help,” said Joe Smith a retired Houston Independent School District teacher who farms 130 acres in Burleson County. “We run cattle on part of it and part of it we do hay feed for the cattle. And of course, if we have a great year, we sell some of the hay,”

He got started in 1989 with a loan from the USDA.

“The USDA gave me a certain amount of money to buy equipment and a certain amount of money to buy cattle,” he said.

Under the new aid program, Smith is eligible to have that debt paid off.

Something John Boyd, president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association says is long overdue.

“I’ve been asking for debt forgiveness and trying to get it by an act of Congress for over 30 years, and it’s just now happening,” Boyd said.

Boyd says Black farmers have been discriminated against by banks and the federal government for decades.

“White farmers are getting on average to top 10%, $1 million in subsidies, and we’re getting $200 on average, from the U.S. farm subsidy program. Under the Trump administration, $29 billion was paid out in farm subsidies in this country. Pretty much 99% went to white farmers,” Boyd said.

The relief plan for farmers of color is getting heavy pushback from banks and some white farmers.

Texas agriculture commissioner Sid Miller filed a lawsuit as a private citizen against the Biden administration claiming the program discriminates against white farmers.

“No one is against white farmers getting anything. I’m against when you say, we can’t get the same as you,” Boyd said.

For the next generation of Black farmers, the renewed efforts toward equity in farming bring optimism, even as they carve their own path.

“This next generation will have the opportunity to take on these family lands and family property and to get some of the resources the government,” said Jeremy Peaches co-owner of Fresh Life Organic and The Black Farmer Box. “But we’re not going to depend on the government to do what historically they haven’t done. We’ve already moved in the mindset of building our own network systems and market outlets so we can be able to have strong resilient farmers not only in rural communities but in urban communities.”

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Emmy-winning journalist, native Houstonian, reader, dancer, yogi.