ATLANTA….The latest Farm Bill is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It offers no real structural changes in the commodity program - that debate seems to have no end in sight. Family farmers, however, just want a fair price for their product and to provide healthy and affordable food to the public. Over the years these farmers have offered, and have had rejected by Congress, several proposals that could accomplish that goal. Yet corporations and rich individuals continue to be the primary beneficiaries of a broken system which is the state of American agriculture.
Nevertheless, for the first time, this recent Farm Bill offers a glimmer of hope for farmers of color and small farmers in general. The bill makes available over one billion dollars for this important sector of America’s agricultural system. It’s true that one billion dollars is not a lot when compared to the total budget of a $300 billion. A significant amount of that budget will go to corporate farmers. But the Farm Bill does mark an important milestone in that farmers of color now have their presence felt at the table where U. S. agricultural policy is debated.
The bill has major flaws. It does not fully fund Outreach and Technical Assistance for farmers; it does, however provide a mandatory $75, million over the next five years for this program, which is twice as much as appropriated in the past. It does not reopen the Black Farmer discrimination class action lawsuit to allow all late filers the opportunity to seek redress; it does provide one hundred million dollars for a certain class of late filers, who qualify, and the possibility of more in the future. It does not deal with the culture of discrimination inherent in the USDA; it does, however, provide more equitable access to EQUIP, Value Added and Specialty Crop grants as well as some other programs vital to the survival of farmers of color.
While not perfect, the bill is a small yet meaningful step toward ensuring the survival of farmers of color and the rural communities in which they live.
Jerry Pennick is the director of the Land Assistance Fund of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund that has served minority farmers across the south since 1967.