Written by FarmRaise Intern, Lily Haynes, on July 24, 2020.
Across the country, protests are erupting in response to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, calling for a recognition and dismantling of systemic racism in our nation. Discrimination can be found in all areas of American society, from policing to education to subconscious prejudice, and the agricultural sector is no exception. Black farmers face both social stigmatization and institutional racism through lack of funding opportunities. [This bestselling novel by Robin diAngelo provides robust definitions of racism, prejudice and discrimination that are helpful for navigating this topic].
In a recent article, Summer Sewell details the life of John Boyd, founder of the National Black Farmers association and a fourth generation Black soybean farmer in Virginia. Sewell documents Boyd’s experience with both societal prejudice and institutional racism that has led to a dramatic decrease in Black farmers in America during the last century. Data released by the USDA found that today, 1.9 of 2 million American farms are run by white producers.
Boyd recounts his experiences with social stigma in the form of price docking, through which his crops are priced down disproportionately compared to his neighboring white farmers. When his white father-in-law sells his product, Boyd receives compliments on the quality of the beans and receives full-price sales. Price docking, product discrimination, and inaccessible resources result in an enormous income disparity in which Black farmers have an average annual income of less than $40,000, while for white farmers the total rings in above $190,000, according to data published by the USDA.
Systemic and institutionalized prejudice also prevents Black producers from receiving loans and deferred debt payments. While trying to grow his business in the 1980’s and 1990’s, Boyd’s loan applications for a few thousand dollars were denied, while white counterparts received tens of thousands of dollars swiftly. Many Black farmers today are reluctant to begin the bureaucratic challenge of applying for loans in the first place due to a low success rate of application approval.
In order to account for some of the injustices faced by minority workers, the USDA provides some specific funding for women, people of color, and other underrepresented farmers. However, a report by the United States Government Accountability Office details that information regarding outreach to disadvantaged farmers is decidedly limited. Despite attempts to increase funding to minority farmers, many are unaware of this resource and unable to tap into its potential. At FarmRaise, we are working to make resources more accessible to all farmers by streamlining the process to both locate and apply for relevant funding.
Discrimination based on race in the United States is institutionalized and manifests as racism; the agricultural sector is no exception. 96% of agricultural producers are white, and over the past decades, Black farmers have faced social prejudice and institutional discrimination.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Through increased funding and access, Black and other underrepresented populations in agriculture will be better poised to grow their operations, increase their profitability, and invest in climate-friendly practices. It’s time to make farm funding accessible to those who need it the most.