Black farmers have long faced systemic discrimination by public and private institutions and barriers to economic mobility. Inequities in the administration of government farm programs and discrimination by the U.S. Department of Agriculture have had a devastating impact on rural communities of color. Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are roughly 40,000 Black farmers in America, owning less than one percent of our nation’s farmland as compared to roughly 95 percent of farmland owned by their white counterparts. Land dispossession and the unequal treatment of Black farmers have only widened the racial wealth gap and stymied intergenerational and community wealth building.
Federal policies that uplift and support Black farmers and other historically marginalized groups are vital for the future of agriculture and the economic survival of rural communities of color. Addressing historical inequities requires strong federal policies that increase land ownership and ensure the economic self-sufficiency and sustainability of Black-owned farms.
We’ve compiled an FAQ and timeline to help you learn more about the history of Black farmers and current efforts to support Black farmers.
Farmers rely on credit to keep their businesses afloat, borrowing against expected harvests to pay for equipment, livestock, seeds, and supplies, and the rent or mortgage on their land, or relying on credit to make ends meet when the price of commodities fluctuates or weather causes crop failures. Yet Black farmers have long been denied the benefits of federal programs and struggled to access loans and other resources. As a result, the number of Black farmers has plummeted: In 1920, Black farmers operated about one-seventh of all farm operations in the United States. Today, Black farmers make up less than two percent of all farmers. Between 1920 and 1997, Black farmers gave up farmland, along with income from that land, that would be worth approximately $326 billion today.
The economic distress experienced by Black farmers traces back to discriminatory government policies and practices. The devastating land loss experienced by Black farmers is one of many systemic issues that contributes to the large and growing racial wealth gap. According to a report by LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute, today, Black households have about seven cents on the dollar in net worth relative to white households.
LDF has worked with partners including the Black Belt Justice Center and the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University to advocate for equitable implementation of Section 22006 and 22007. We have also advocated for Congress to include additional programs aimed at Black farmers and other socially disadvantaged farmers in the 2023 Farm Bill.
In 2023, LDF sent a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation following reports that the agency was abusing eminent domain to seize farmland from Black farmers in West Tennessee to build a highway to a new Ford electric vehicle plant. The letter explained that Tennessee’s actions could violate the federal and state constitutions, as well as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination by federal funding recipients.
In 2022, Congress appropriated funds to two programs through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) that provide additional financial assistance to farmers and ranchers.
Section 22006 of the IRA authorizes the USDA to provide $3.1 billion to provide payments to and for the cost of loans or loan modifications for economically distressed borrowers of direct or guaranteed loans administered by the Farm Service Agency. To find out more about the 22006 program and whether you or someone you know would qualify for assistance, you can go to this website.
Section 22007 appropriates $2.2 billion for financial assistance to farmers who have experienced discrimination in USDA’s farm lending programs. The application process is now open, and free assistance in filling out the application is available. You can access the application here, and find out more information about the program here.
Many farmers who were given assistance under Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act reported having troubling tax bills due to the financial assistance they received from the program. As a result of advocacy by LDF and others, the USDA and the U.S. Department of the Treasury worked together to provide a solution to farmers.
If you are a farmer who received financial assistance from the Section 22006 program for a direct loan, you should have received a letter from the USDA that provided new tax forms. This fix should reduce or eliminate the tax burden of Section 22006 financial assistance for many farmers.
A webinar with more information about the tax forms and how to fill out the tax forms can be found here.
During the Great Depression, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 offered farmers subsidies in exchange for limiting their production of certain crops, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) allowed white landowners to keep government benefit payments from the rather than passing them on to Black farmers who sharecropped on their land. At the same time, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration granted a disproportionate amount of funds to white farmers, leaving Black farmers vulnerable. In 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Farm Security Administration as part of the New Deal, but Black farmers received disproportionately fewer rehabilitation and tenant-purchase loans through that agency. Similarly, discriminatory county supervisors consistently excluded Black farmers from many USDA programs.
Black farmers, including Timothy Pigford, ultimately filed class action lawsuits in response to this persistent discrimination. A $1 billion settlement was negotiated in 1999, which was expanded in 2011. Yet many class members encountered significant obstacles in obtaining relief. Most of the claimants received payouts of $50,000 or less, just 10% of what the average mid-sized farm spends in a year. Overall, less than three percent of claimants (425 people total) received debt relief as part of Pigford.
Unfortunately, the USDA’s problematic practices continued even after the Pigford settlement. The agency continued to fail to process discrimination claims in a timely manner and foreclosed on farmers with pending complaints.
Black farmers still struggle to access USDA programs. In 2022, the USDA granted direct loans to only 36 percent of applicant farmers who identified as Black, according to an NPR analysis of USDA data. Sixteen percent of Black farmers were rejected—the highest amount for all demographic groups. In contrast, 72 percent of white farmers who applied were approved and only 4 percent of white farmers were denied.
As a result of the dogged advocacy of Black farmers, the American Rescue Plan Act, which became law in March 2021, included targeted debt relief payments to “socially disadvantaged farmers,” including Black farmers. Unfortunately, several courts issued preliminary injunctions against the program, blocking this relief.
Today, Black farmers continue to struggle financially and their farms remain at risk. According to the Center for American Progress, full-time Black farmers today earn one-seventh of the farm income that white farmers earn. A study by McKinsey similarly found that Black farmers are also more likely to generate a net loss, be given a long-term production contract, and operate on less land than white farmers.
Some Black farmers also do not have clear title to their land. Forty percent of land owned by Black farmers is heirs’ property, which is defined as land passed down between generations without a formal will or title.
IRS Forms and Assistance
Section 22006 of the IRA provided $3.1 billion to provide relief for borrowers with certain Farm Service Agency (FSA) loans. Learn more about the program and see if you qualify.
IRS Forms and Assistance
Section 22007 of the IRA appropriates $2.2 billion for financial assistance to farmers who have experienced discrimination in USDA’s farm lending programs. Learn more about the program and see if you qualify.
IRS Forms and Assistance
View the webinar for direct loan borrowers who received financial assistance in 2022 from USDA’s Farm Service Agency under Section 22006 of the Inflation Reduction Act.
Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center specializes in policy research impacting socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
The Black Belt Justice Center (BBJC) is a legal and advocacy nonprofit organization that serves African-American farmers, landowners, and communities in the Black Belt region.
In May 2023, LDF sent a letter to the Tennessee Department of Transportation addressing concerns that the TTOD is abusing eminent domain to seize farmland from Black farmers in West Tennessee to build a highway to a new Ford electric vehicle plant known as BlueOval City.
This Thurgood Marshall Institute report examines the Black-white racial wealth gap in the U.S., explains its historical foundations and contemporary drivers, and policies to address structural disparities.
This report from the Institute for Economic and Racial Equity at Brandeis University explains how the Pigford v. Glickman settlement exacerbated the farming debt crisis and its ongoing impact.
This Duke Law Journal report examines barriers to debt relief and how lingering effects of discrimination by the USDA continue to eviscerate the population of Black farmers.
This episode explores how Black farmers and scholars are centering resilience, survival and activism at the core of historical narratives around African Americans and agriculture.