Washington has announced $550 million in additional funding to spur more diversity in agricultural industries
President Joe Biden’s administration is doling out $550 million for programs to help poor farmers and increase racial diversity in agricultural careers, adding to its previous “equity” outlays for food producers.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new funding on Wednesday, saying it aimed to help “underserved” producers access land, capital and markets and to train “the next diverse generation of agricultural professionals.” The spending binge targets “farmers of color,” meaning those with skin colors other than white.
The announcement follows a failed effort by the Biden administration to provide debt forgiveness to only non-white farmers through a March 2021 Covid-19 relief bill. A federal judge ruled in June 2021 that racially-based debt relief was unconstitutionally discriminatory.
A $739 billion tax and spending bill that Biden’s Democratic Party pushed through Congress earlier this month enabled the USDA to take another crack at its diversity push, this time using broader language regarding eligibility to avoid court challenges. The spending package announced on Wednesday is part of the effort. The USDA also plans to offer a new debt-relief program for “economically distressed” farmers – not just those who are non-white – preferably by October, when a Covid-related moratorium on farm foreclosures is scheduled to end.
For now, the USDA said it would provide $300 million for projects to help struggling agricultural producers, including those who are poor, veterans, or “farmers of color.” Although white farmers aren’t technically excluded from the programs, the agency said it aimed to help “underserved” groups that have been discriminated against in the past.
The USDA is also earmarking $250 million to create career development opportunities at “minority-serving institutions.” Historically black colleges, Native American institutions and “certified Hispanic-serving institutions” will be eligible to apply for grants under the program. Many of the students who participate will wind up with jobs in the federal government.
The new spending plans are “the latest in a series of announcements building momentum around USDA’s historic commitment to root out generations of systemic racism, center equity in decision-making and policymaking,” and foster a “diverse, modern and inclusive workforce,” the agency said.
Not everyone is happy that the agency was forced to broaden eligibility for its subsidies. Commenting on changes to the debt-relief scheme, Virginia farmer John Boyd Jr., president of the Black Farmers Association, told CNN last week that the program would be less fair than what was previously planned. “Now they’re using very broad language that includes white farmers and other forms of discrimination, including age,” he said. “Instead of getting what we already had in place, we are competing with others now.”