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April 1998, Volume 4, Number 2

Minority Farmers

About 1.2 million or two-thirds of US farms have annual sales of $20,000 or
less, and they produce about four percent of total farm sales. However, the
largest 40,000 US farms, each with annual sales of $500,000 or more, accounted
for 40 percent of US farm sales in 1993. The average age of US farmers is
58.


Fewer than one percent, or about 18,000, of the 1.9 million US farmers are
Black, and on December 17, 1997, Black farmers told President Clinton that they
had been subjected to discrimination under USDA programs. Under many USDA
programs, including Farmers Home Administration loans, local committees of
farmers decide on loan applications or eligibility to participate in the
program. Over 1,000 Black farmers have sued USDA, seeking $1 billion in
compensation.


In April 1997, USDA announced a "substantial" settlement with a southern
Virginia farmer who filed a discrimination complaint charging that his farm
loan application was delayed because he is Black. The farmer's request for a
119,000 loan to finance a poultry house was repeatedly delayed by local USDA
officials.


The president of the National Black Farmers Association said that he
remains angry with USDA because it will take another year to resolve the
backlog of more than 500 similar discrimination complaints. A February
Department of Agriculture report had set a June 6 deadline for settling all the
bias complaints in USDA loan programs. The USDA says that, because the Office
of Civil Rights investigative arm disbanded in 1983, the agency must start over
in many of the cases.


In 1997, Black farmers testified for several hours before Agriculture
Secretary Glickman and several top aides at a special hearing called by Rep.
Maxine Waters, a California Democrat who heads the Congressional Black Caucus.
Glickman told the assembled farmers that the biggest challenge the USDA faces
is civil rights and promised to make changes. Prior to the hearing, several
hundred Black farmers rallied in front of USDA, which has 90,000
employees.


There are an estimated 4,000 Latino growers in California, including 500 in
Watsonville. The Watsonville-area growers, most of whom grow strawberries, are
trying to form a cooler-shipper to represent about 150 of them who control 750
acres of strawberries. One-third of the area's strawberry growers are
Latinos.


In the Fresno area, some 1,000 Southeast Asian farmers lease farm land for
$300 an acre. Many sell their produce at street corner vegetable
stands.

Ariana Chamercury, "Immigrants alter face of state's farms," San Jose
Mercury News, August 25, 1997. Michael A. Fletcher, "Black Farmer Wins
Settlement From the USDA," Washington Post, April 14 1997. Pamela Stallsmith,
"Class-Action Lawsuit by Farmers Ruled Out," Richmond Times Dispatch, April 5,
1997.