I was at a meeting early last week organized by a private company for farmers to learn how to receive tax credits and other funding from the Biden administration’s “climate-smart” programs that encourage more environmentally friendly farming practices.

Being a news guy, I asked someone from the company how many people were at the conference. “We just figured it out,” he replied with a grin, “Three hundred twenty-nine people are here.”

I walked back to the main conference room and sat with a white friend, whose husband is Black.

“Three hundred twenty-nine people are here and there’s not one Black person in the room,” I said.

“I noticed,” she replied.

I attended the Iowa History Conference last Thursday. It was wonderful. I learned so much.

Ricki King, a panelist in the “Writing and Preserving Iowa’s Agricultural History” discussion mentioned last December’s first-ever Iowa Farmers of Color Conference, and all panelists joined her in relating the importance of sharing Black farmer stories as part of telling our story — Iowa’s story.

With these two conferences converging last week, I wondered about the societal processes at work that kept Black farmers out of the room at the farming conference. I purposefully am not naming that conference or its organizer because I don’t want anyone to conclude without evidence that racism played a role in the absence of Black farmers. The conference was organized in part because the organizer offered unique services that farmers in the room could purchase in order to obtain a maximum return from the government for embracing climate-smart agriculture.

I suspect the only color the organizer saw when he looked into his audience was green.

With respect to the Iowa Farmers of Color Conference, from the ISU Extension website:

At the first Iowa Farmers of Color Conference in Des Moines, Iowa, on December 16, 2023, 114 people gathered to discuss opportunities and challenges facing farmers of color. The keynote speaker was Dr. Dewayne Goldmon, Senior Advisor for Racial Equity at USDA. … Dr. Goldmon graduated with a Ph.D. in Agronomy at Iowa State University (ISU) in 1991. … In 2020, he received the ISU George Washington Carver Distinguished Service Award. Dr. Goldmon encouraged farmers in the audience to reach out to USDA offices, such as the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide assistance with loans and cost-share programs, including those for implementation of conservation practices and organic transition. A complete guide to USDA services for historically underserved farmers can be found here: https://www.farmers.gov/sites/default/files/2022-07/farmersgov-historically-underserved-factsheet-07-20-2022.pdf 

Don’t bother clicking the link. It’s dead. Here’s what you will find.

The link is dead because Republicans killed the programs.

Historical injustice and racism at the hands of the USDA denied Black farmers and other groups access to resources that white male farmers took for granted, and the Biden administration made a historic effort to begin to make amends for the generational economic damage the USDA caused, and Republicans were having none of it.

How extensive was the racism?

In 2021, the Environmental Working Group published Timeline: Black Farmers and the USDA, 1920 to the present. It is exquisitely detailed, including links to all reports and actions. Get ready for a bumpy and uncomfortable ride — it’s a long list.

Generational racism at the hands of the USDA has generated mistrust of the agency among Black and other farmers (this “PBS News Hour”  documentary illustrates the effects that continue to this day). But Republicans resist any action to support Black farmers that might in some small way begin to address the historical damage. The link to those programs is dead because Republicans demolished those programs as part of their assault on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that have also impacted other federal small business programs, and our public schools and universities to the point of banning books and seeking to erase minority populations from history.

The Washington Post reported on June 10 that Republicans are blocking these and many similar programs across several agencies in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action in college admissions. The Post’s reporting focuses on the recent decision by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Texas to bring to the end a program focused on disaster relief for minority farmers. The judge sided with a group of plaintiffs who allege that the program illegally discriminates against white male farmers, the Post reported.

According  to the Post, the attorney for the white plaintiffs dared to declare:

“America’s farmers have been mistreated by this Administration for years now with one discriminatory scheme after another,” said Braden Boucek, vice president of litigation at the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which is representing the plaintiffs. “This ruling is a win for equality across the country, and we are proud to stand beside these farmers in holding the government accountable.”

The judge in the case was Matthew Kacsmaryk, best known for blocking the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the abortion medication mifepristone. (The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed that ruling Friday.)

One of the plaintiffs in the case sued in part because, according to the Post, “after he and his wife applied for disaster relief, his wife received $71,900 under the program, while he received a 10th of the amount: $7,272.”

Poor baby.

The Post quoted Virginia farmer John Boyd Jr., who said it’s hard for Black-owned farms to compete when farm subsidies overwhelmingly go to White farmers. He said setting aside resources to help Black farmers is necessary to correct the disparity.

“No matter how good a farmer I am, I can’t compete with those resources,” Boyd said, according to the Post. “The Black farmer is facing extinction and we’ve got to put laws in place to protect them like you would any other endangered species, so we can pass on generational wealth to the next generation of Black farmers.”

Why are so many Republicans fighting diversity, equity, and inclusion programs when they make so much sense?

Because for them it is all about power and control. They want the landscape to stay the same as it is now, where they are in power. They aren’t interested in the different ideas that will certainly come from Black and other minorities in any situation where those ideas are elevated. They want their narrative to remain the only one.

And with respect to Black and other underserved farmers who were historically discriminated against, the incentives the Biden administration was offering had NO IMPACT on the amount of support white male farmers would get.

It’s not pie.

If a Black farmer gets a slice of pie it doesn’t mean a white farmer doesn’t get one.

It just makes the pie bigger for all.

I don’t know why there were no Black farmers at the ag conference. Perhaps they weren’t invited. Perhaps justified skepticism of USDA programs kept them away.

I don’t know the financial situations of any of the white farmers in the room at the ag conference.

I do suspect, however, that most if not all of them were born into generational wealth that wouldn’t have been built without USDA assistance Black farmers were denied.

The organizer of the conference certainly did. He’s a seventh-generation white Iowa farmer.



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