The US Farm Bill

Part 3: Farmland and Federal Support

Part 3: Farmland and Federal Support 

At-A-Glance: Farmland and Federal Support 

Farm Size and Consolidation

  • The “midpoint acreage” for US cropland nearly doubled between 1982 and 2007, from 589 acres to 1,105 acres. Furthermore, certain crops exhibit higher susceptibility to consolidation: midpoint acreages doubled in each of 5 major field crops (corn, cotton, rice, soybeans, and wheat) and increased by 107% in 35 of 39 fruit and vegetable crops.165

Farmland Ownership

  • As of 1999, of all private US agricultural land, white people accounted for 96% of the owners (3.2 million people), 97% of all agricultural value ($1.16 trillion), and 98% of the acres (856 million acres). Conversely, Blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos/as together accounted for 4% of the owners (146,703 people), 3% of all agricultural value ($44 billion), and 2.8% of the acres (25 million acres) of agricultural land.166

Government Payments

  • 97.8% of all government payments are given to white farmers. White farmers who receive farm payments receive an average of $10,022 per farm, while Black farmers who receive payments receive an average of $5,509 per farm. 
  • As of 2009, 50% of commodity payments went to farms operated by households earning over $89,540, 25% went to farms operated by households with incomes greater than $209,000 and 10% went to farms operated by households with incomes of at least $425,000.

Cropping Patterns and Specialization 

  • Trends in farmland consolidation have been accompanied by greater specialization in both farm type and cropping patterns.
  • In 1900, 90% of all farms had chickens, 78% had milk cows, and 75% had pigs, yet by 2010 that number dropped to 3% for pigs and milk cows, and 8% for chickens.167167
  • Agricultural policy, increased mechanization, fertilizer use, genetic modification, and corporate control, have pushed farmers to specialize in only a few products.
  • The proportion of cropland devoted to corn, for example, has expanded greatly: from a nearly 100 year low of 60.2 million acres in1983, to 80 million acres in 2010.168

This infographic includes the farmland consolidation from 1900-2010

THE STRUCTURE OF US AGRICULTURE determines and reflects the challenges faced by US farmers and rural communities. This includes farm size, type, cropping patterns, and ownership. Moreover, the federal food and agricultural policies, including the Farm Bill, affect the structure of US farmland through multiple forces and drivers, including taxes, lending programs, environmental and safety regulation, rural development programs, research and development funding, and commodity programs.169

In this light, Part III examines how such programs have shaped the structure of US farmland and, in turn, how they have affected the socio-economic well-being of low-income farmers and communities, as well as farmers and communities of color. It does so, first, by providing a snapshot of the structure of US farmland, including the outcomes of structural racialization with regard to farmland ownership and government payments (see At-Glance). It then outlines the historical significance of change in the structure of US agriculture over the 20th century, and examines three federal rural and agricultural support programs in particular: Farm Service Agency (FSA) lending programs, Farm Bill commodity programs, and Farm Bill Rural Development (RD) programs. 

Ultimately, Part III argues that such programs have historically undergirded white farmland ownership at the expense of farmland ownership by people of color. Significantly, these programs also highlight how white agricultural land ownership was held up amidst, and by way of, increasing consolidation and specialization, with farmers of color on the losing side of such shifts in the structure of US farmland. In the push for the dismantlement of corporate control and structural racialization, such trends thus require greater attention with regard to their role in intensifying marginality that low-income communities and communities of color face in terms of wealth, access to program benefits, and land access. .170


One of the most significant changes in the US economy since the beginning of the 20th century is the national abandonment of farming as a household livelihood strategy. This “agricultural transition” is marked by a number of characteristics: the move away from farming by most Americans and the challenging conditions that remaining farmers experience; the decline in the number of farms and farm population; the growth of larger farms vis-à-vis acreage, sales, and real estate capitalization; and the gradual replacement of family with hired labor.171 The post-World War II period ushered in perhaps the most rapid transformation, particularly by way of New Deal interventions, and their reformulation and erosion over the next few decades.172 Between 1940 and 1980, for example, the farm population declined ten-fold, the farm numbers declined by more than half, acreage more than doubled, and real average sales increased six-fold.173 Farmers also experienced periodic crises during key moments within such long term structural change, such as those that took place during the 1980s and in the mid-1990s.174

This infographic includes six pie charts showcasing private agricultural land including ownership, value, acres.

Such shifts were linked to the polarization of production.175 For example, between 1939 and 1987, the market share of sales by the largest 5% of producers increased from 38.3% to 54.5%.176 Agricultural firms have expanded not just through vertical and horizontal consolidation, as outlined in Part I, they have also done so through production contracts, wherein a farmer raises or grows an agricultural product, including livestock, for such firms. While only about 8.9% of farms operated under production contract in 2012—up from 3% only a decade earlier—they produced 96% of all poultry, 43% of all hogs, and around 25% of all cattle.177 Contract farming carries with it numerous risks that compromise the long term well-being of producers themselves.xxxiii Furthermore, most farms cannot fully employ or sustain families.178 To survive in farming, families have taken off-farm jobs. As of 2013, for example, 87% of farmers’ median household income came from non-farm sources. The median farm income for operations that specialize in grains, rice, tobacco, cotton, or peanuts, 23% of income came from on-farm sources. Conversely, livestock operations, apart from dairy, have generally not had a positive income from farming.179 That is, without income garnered by way of off-farm sources, such operations would go negative. As outlined below, the complete lack of profitability of such operations, and the relatively great profitability of grain and other commodity crop operations, cannot be understood as separate from the racialized distribution of operation types, with white producers generally running more profitable grain and other commodity crop operations, and producers of color running less profitable livestock operations.

Shifts in agricultural production were tied not only to the polarization of production but also to racial, gender, and economic polarization. For example, although Blacks were able to establish a foothold in southern agriculture post-Emancipation, rural Blacks were virtually uprooted from farming over the next several decades. In 1920, 14% of all US farmers were Black (926,000, with all but 10,000 in the South), and they owned over 16 million acres. By 1997, however, fewer than 20,000 were Black, and they owned only about 2 million acres.180 While white farmers were losing their farms during these decades as well, the rate that Black farmers lost their land has been estimated at two and a half to five times the rate of white-owned farm loss.181 Furthermore, although between 1920 and 2002, the number of US farms shrank—from 6.5 million to 2.1 million, or by 67%—the decline was especially steep among Black farmers. Specifically, between 1920 and 1997, the loss of US farms operated by Blacks dropped 98%, while the loss of US farms operated by whites dropped 65.8%.182

As outlined above, such shifts have been attributed to the general decline of small farms, land erosion, boll weevil infestations of cotton, New Deal farm programs geared toward white landowners, postwar cotton mechanization, repressive racial and ethnic relations, and the lure of jobs and relative safety in the North.183 Remaining Black farmers were not only older and poorer than others, they also continued to disproportionately face structural discrimination with regard to land ownership and access to federal support, whether because of ineffectiveness, discrimination in implementation, poor design, lack of funding, or unintended shortcomings.184 The following section focuses on three sets of Farm Bill programs in particular and elaborates upon the history of each as they relate to racial and economic inequity, particularly in terms of income and wealth, access to program benefits, land access, access to positions of power, and degree of democratic influence.

This infographic includes a map of The “midpoint acreage” of the Corn Belt and Northern Plains states almost doubled between 1982 and 2007


Farm Service Agency (FSA) Lending Programs and the Farm Bill

Discrimination by the USDA and FSA Loan Distribution Program is among the most significant causes of limited access to, and loss of, farmland by people of color. Specifically, lending program discrimination has undermined the economic capacity of farmers of color to anticipate and respond to rapid consolidation and specialization, such as limited capacity to adopt scientific and technological innovations in agricultural production, and greater vulnerability to price volatility.185xxxiv

Toward this end, allegations of unlawful discrimination against farmers of color in the management and local administration of USDA lending programs—and the USDA’s limited response to such allegations—have been long-standing and well-documented.xxxv For example, in 1965, the US Commission on Civil Rights found evidence of discrimination in the USDA’s treatment of employees of color and in its program delivery.186 Furthermore, in the early 1970s, the USDA was found intentionally forcing farmers of color off their land through its loan practices.187 In 1982, the US Civil Rights Commission again found evidence of continued discrimination actively contributing to the decline in minority farm ownership.188 Despite such findings, in 1983, only one year later, President Reagan pushed for budget cuts that ultimately eliminated the USDA Office of Civil Rights, the primary body for addressing such claims of discrimination.189

Even after the USDA Office of Civil Rights was restored in 1996 during the Clinton Administration, discrimination in the lending programs continued for years.xxxvi Although the USDA officially prohibits discrimination, the structure for the election of FSA county, area, and local committees that decide who receives loans and under what terms facilitates continued racial discrimination.xxxvii Toward this end, a 1997 USDA Office of Civil Rights report observed that FSA county committees operate as closed networks and are disproportionately comprised of white men, noting that, in 1994, 94% of the county farm loan committees included no women or people of color.190 As of 2007, such trends continue, with just 90 Black committee members among a total 7,882 committee members around the country, slightly over 1%.191 Decades of discrimination and lack of access to such crucial positions have sparked several class-action lawsuits by women farmers and by various groups of farmers of color.xxxviii

Only recently has the Farm Bill attempted to address a major cause of racially discriminatory FSA lending program outcomes by targeting the lack of people of color within FSA committees. Specifically, it was not until a provision, Section 10708(b), in the 2002 Farm Bill that the composition of FSA county, area, and local committees were required to be “representative of the agricultural producers within the area covered by the county, area, or local committee,” and to accept nominations from organizations representing the interests of socio-economically marginalized communities. Furthermore, a provision, Section 1615, of the 2008 Farm Bill required county or area committees that are themselves undergoing rapid consolidation to develop procedures to maintain representation of farmers of color on such committees.192 It was not until early 2012, however, that federal regulations were made consistent with legislative changes.193xxxix

This infographic showcases how The Midpoint acreages doubled in each of ve major crops and increased by 107% in 35 of 39 fruit and vegetable crops

Because of the historic discrimination against farmers of color, and other structural barriers to land ownership for people of color, the population of agricultural producers is already heavily skewed toward white men. Thus, such measures to guarantee FSA committees are representative of agricultural producers in any particular region fall short in their attempts to address the acutely historical causes and outcomes of structural racialization that have upheld white land ownership in particular.

Commodity Support Programs and Structural Racialization

The second major channel among the Farm Bill and other federal food and agricultural policies that have played a historic and ongoing role in structural racialization is the Farm Bill’s commodity programs, which have undergirded white farmland ownership at the expense of farmland ownership by people of color. While the FSA lending programs have upheld white farmland ownership amidst increasing consolidation and specialization, the Farm Bill commodity programs uphold white farmland ownership by way of increasing consolidation and specialization. Specifically, increasing agricultural specialization and consolidation—due in part to federal agricultural policy and corporate control, and increased mechanization, fertilizer use, and genetic modification—have upheld white farmland ownership because of both the historic access to prime farmland afforded to white farmers as well as the commodity support programs that are most applicable to the crops grown on such farmland. Limited access to prime farmland, and thus limited access to commodity support programs in conjunction with limited access to federal lending programs as outlined above, has compromised the possibility of farmland ownership for people of color. 

Historically, people of color were not only excluded from land ownership, but when land ownership was in sight, access to the best farmland was largely out of reach.xl After Emancipation, for example, chronic indebtedness kept the primarily Black population of sharecroppers tied to the same land, neither able to resist the demands and directions of their employers nor able to accrue enough wealth to buy their own land. Although some were able to garner the financial means to break such predatory cycles of debt and purchase their own land, few Blacks could afford to achieve ownership of land with the richest soil, including the notorious “Black Belt” itself, between Georgia and Arkansas. Rather, most Black-owned farms were on more marginal lands in the upper and coastal South, where Black farmers often had to supplement the low yields and profits with sharecropping on more substantial white-owned lands or with outside labor.194 The best opportunities available to farmers of color, Black or otherwise, on such land tended and remain to be specialty crops and livestock.195 As of 2012, for example, 63.6% of Asian American farmers, compared to only 8.5% of white farmers, grew fruits and vegetables. Moreover, as of 2012, 46.8% of Black farmers, compared to 29.1% of white farmers, raised beef cattle. Conversely, as of 2012, white farmers grow 98.6% of all grain and oilseed crops.196

Furthermore, livestock and specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables, are not eligible for these commodity programs, leaving farmers of color with less government support.197 Specifically, the current agriculture funding structure, from research funding to crop subsidies, and to conservation programs, as will be outlined in Part IV, is heavily weighted to support the large-scale production of commodity crops—among them, wheat, corn, soybeans, and others—crops that are primarily grown by white farmers on the highest quality farmland.198 Thus, as a result, as of 2012, 40% of white farmers receive government payments while only 30% of Black farmers receive government payments. 

Furthermore, white farmers that do receive payments receive an average of $10,022 per farm, while Black farmers that receive payments receive an average of $5,509 per farm. Farmers of color, and new immigrant farmers in particular, often grow high-value, labor-intensive horticultural products on small plots of land, which also receive less government support.xli In 2012, small-scale farmers received an average of $5,003 per farm while large-scale farmers received an average of $47,732 per farm.199 Perhaps most significantly, as of 2012, 97.8% of all government payments are given to white farmers.200

According to a 2012 USDA Economic Research Service study, the distribution of commodity-related payments—including federal crop insurance indemnities—to US farmers has shifted toward larger farms as part of the trend of increasing consolidation of farming operations, ensuring that those who have historically benefited from exclusionary practices benefit further.201 Significantly, because the operators of larger farms (as owners, renters, etc.) generally have higher incomes than those of smaller farms, the shift of commodity-related payments to larger farms led to a shift of payments to higher income households. For example, in 1991, households with incomes over $54,940 received 50% of commodity payments, households with incomes greater than $115,000 received 25% of commodity payments, and households with incomes over $229,000 received 10% of commodity payments. Since then, the distribution of payments has increasingly favored higher income households: by 2009, households earning over $89,540 received 50% of commodity payments, households with incomes greater than $209,000 received 25% of commodity payments, and households with incomes of at least $425,000 received 10% of commodity payments.202 Significantly, such payments are not entirely mitigated by higher rental payments for land. That is, the potential for profit is still great, with only 25% going toward rent, and with only 64% of farmland itself rented.203

Finally, increasing corporate influence, which has further entrenched and profited off large scale, specialized, and commodity crop-oriented production—and ensured that it does so by way of federal commodity support programs—subsequently exacerbates such trends in wealth accrued by white farmland owners. That is, corporate influence, which has pushed for increasingly specialized and large-scale commodity crop production on prime farmland, has facilitated and secured further accumulation of wealth by whites, particularly by way of plentiful government payments. Thus, despite the widely experienced loss of farmland by way of consolidation and specialization, such trends ultimately undergird white land ownership and wealth in the United States, and exacerbate the marginality that people of color face in accumulating wealth in relation to white people. 

Rural Poverty, Rural Development, and Structural Racialization

The third major channel within the Farm Bill and other federal food and agricultural policies that has played a historic and ongoing role in structural racialization is the Farm Bill’s Rural Development programs, which are intended to help strengthen small communities by investing in water systems, housing, new businesses, infrastructure, and similar projects. Because many farms owned by people of color are in counties with little wealth and limited opportunities for non-farm employment, and because many rural and small town communities of color are faced with persistent poverty, Rural Development programs have the potential to promote socio-economic well-being for people of color and other historically marginalized communities.204 As of 2012, there is a larger percentage of whites in rural communities (78%) than in urban communities (64%). Yet, within rural communities, people of color face higher rates of poverty: while only 14% of rural whites live in poverty, 34% of rural Blacks live in poverty. Additionally, as of 2010, Latinos/as, Blacks, and Pacific Islanders have the lowest homeownership rates (between 50 and 55%) compared to homeownership rates for whites (75%).205 Thus, it is unsurprising that, according to a 2013 Tuskegee University study, farmers and rural communities of color have had particularly high participation rate in three major Rural Development programs: Rural Housing and Community Facilities; Rural Business; and Rural Utilities.206xlii

Even though the Farm Bill’s Rural Development programs hold great potential for farmers of color and rural communities of color, barriers to participation reflect those that characterize other Farm Bill programs, marking how such support programs actually contribute to structural racialization. The Tuskegee University study, for example, found that regarding the delivery of such programs, farmers of color experience five major barriers: lack of program knowledge, impersonal workplace environment, “facially neutral eligibility requirements” that do not address the historic and systemic exclusion, remote locations, and sub-par outreach efforts.207xliii The Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, for example, is a major Rural Development program that supports innovative marketing and product development strategies for the added processing of agricultural goods that can generate additional income. The VAPG program could be of great benefit to producers of color who grow a variety of nongrain and oilseed crops with value-added potential.208 Yet despite the Farm Bill itself requiring the USDA to prioritize projects by socio-economically disadvantaged farmers, a short application period and complex application form, and a requirement that recipients provide 1:1 matching funds, puts the VAPG program out of reach for some farmers of color.209

Finally, insufficient funding has long marked the Farm Bill’s rural development title and programs. Although, overall program spending within the 2014 Farm Bill averages $95.6 billion per year for the next ten years, the rural development title will receive less than 0.024% of that, only $22.8 million per year. The Value Added Producer Grant program, in particular, although originally authorized in 2000 to receive $20 million per year in funding, has been cut to $12.5 million annually under the 2014 Farm Bill. Collectively, such barriers limit the potential benefit of the Farm Bill’s Rural Development programs with regard to the dire situation many farmers of color and rural communities of color face. Ultimately, they highlight the central contradiction that farmers of color face with regard to such commodity support programs and other support programs for farmers and rural communities: inclusion in the benefits of such programs does little to destabilize the historic and structural outcomes that they have reinforced, to undergird the wealth of whites in the United States, and to ensure that it is white communities that fare best regardless of what happens to the structure of US agriculture.

  • 165. Ibid.; Hilary W. Hoynes, Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, and Douglas Almond, “Long Run Impacts of Childhood Access to the Safety Net” (Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2012),
  • 166. MacDonald, Korb, and Hoppe, “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming.”
  • 167. a. b. MacDonald, Korb, and Hoppe, “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming”; DePillis, “Farms Are Gigantic Now. Even the ‘Family-Owned’ Ones”; “Agricultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey (AELOS),” Census of Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, n.d.),
  • 168. MacDonald, Korb, and Hoppe, “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming.”
  • 169. William Rankin, “The Way We Eat Now: The City and the Farms,” Musings on Maps, March 1, 2013, https://dabrownstein.wordpress. com/category/wiliam-rankin/; Lydia DePillis, “Farms Are Gigantic Now. Even the ‘Family-Owned’ Ones,” The Washington Post, August 11, 2013, blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/08/11/farms-are-gigantic-now-even-the-family-owned-ones/; “World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, April 9, 2015).
  • 170. James Michael MacDonald, Penni Korb, and Robert A. Hoppe, “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, August 2013),
  • 171. For other such studies, see: E. Yvonne Beauford, H. Max Miller, and Melvin E. Walker, “Effects of the Changing Structure of Agriculture on Nonwhite Farming in the U.S., the South, and Georgia: 1954–1978,” Sociological Spectrum 4, no. 4 (January 1984): 405–20, doi:10.1080/02732173.1984. 9981731; Minnie M. Brown and Olaf F. Larson, “Successful Black Farmers: Factors in Their Achievement.,” Rural Sociology 44, no. 1 (1979): 153–75; Robert Zabawa, “Government Programs, Small Farm Research, and Assistance for Limited Resource Black Farmers in Alabama,” Human Organization 48, no. 1 (1989): 53–60; Ejigou Demise, “Improving Government Farm Programs for Limited-Resource Farmers,” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 44, no. 5 (1989): 388–91.
  • 172. Linda Lobao and Katherine Meyer, “The Great Agricultural Transition: Crisis, Change, and Social Consequences of Twentieth Century U.S. Farming,” Annual Review of Sociology 27, no. 1 (2001): 103–24.
  • 173. Kevin F. Goss, Richard D. Rodefeld, and Frederick H. Buttel, “The Political Economy of Class Structure in U.S. Agriculture: A Theoretical Outline,” in The Rural Sociology of the Advanced Societies, ed. Frederick H. Buttel and H. Newby (Montclair, NJ: Allanheld, Osmun, and Company, 1980).
  • 174. “Census of Agriculture, 2012” (Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 2012).
  • 175. Lobao and Meyer, “The Great Agricultural Transition.”
  • 176. Frederick H. Buttel and Pierre LaRamee, “The Disappearing Middle: A Sociological Perspective,” in Towards a New Political Economy of Agriculture, ed. W.H. Friedland et al. (San Francisco: Westview Press, 1991), 151–69.
  • 177. Adell Brown, Ralph D. Christy, and Tesfa G. Gebremedhin, “Structural Changes in U.S. Agriculture: Implications for African American Farmers,” The Review of Black Political Economy 22, no. 4 (1994): 51–71.
  • xxxiii. There are several ways in which contracts carry numerous risks for producers: the potential early termination of contracts; when companies require producers to make improvements yet at the producer’s expense; the manipulation of inputs; unprofitable contracts; under-weighing of products by buyers; the withholding of payments; false rankings; potential retaliation for complaining or organizing; being stuck with one company; and grading problems. Roth, Randi Ilyse. Contract Farming Breeds Big Problems for Growers. Legal Action Report. Farmers’ Legal Action Group, 1992.
  • 178. “Census of Agriculture, 2012,” 2012; Robert A. Hoppe, “Background: Farm Organization” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, 2014), background-on-farm-organization.aspx.
  • 179. Lobao and Meyer, “The Great Agricultural Transition.”
  • 180. Daniel Prager, “Farm Household Income (Historical)” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Economic Research Service, 2014),
  • 181. “Census of Agriculture, 1999” (Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 1999); Jess Gilbert, Gwen Sharp, and M. Sindy FeZin, “The Loss and Persistence of Black-Owned Farms and Farmland: A Review of the Research Literature and Its Implications,” Southern Rural Sociology 18, no. 2 (2002): 1–30.
  • 182. “Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture” (Washington, D.C.: United States Commission on Civil Rights, 1982), Melvin L. Oliver and Thomas M. Shapiro, Black Wealth/White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality (New York: Routledge, 2006).
  • 183. “Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture,” 1982; “Census of Agriculture, 1992” (Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 1992); “Census of Agriculture, 1997” (Washington, D.C.: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 1997).
  • 185. Neil Fligstein, Going North: Migration of Blacks and Whites from the South, 1900—1950 (New York: Academic Press, 2013), Jay R. Mandle, The Roots of Black Poverty (Durham: Duke University Press, 1978),; Ronald E. Seavoy, The American Peasantry: Southern Agricultural Labor and Its Legacy, 1850-1995: A Study in Political Economy, 200 (Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers, 1998); Stewart Emory Tolnay, The Bottom Rung: African American Family Life on Southern Farms (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999),
  • xxxiv. Mid-size farmers (500 acres) have also been particularly vulnerable to price, cost, yield, and asset value shocks, a trend has been termed “loss of the middle.” Li, Shasha, and Michael Boehlje. “Financial Vulnerability of Midwest Grain Farms: Implications of Price, Yield, and Cost Shocks.” Purdue University, Department of Agricultural Economics, 2013.
  • xxxv. The USDA was one of the last federal agencies to racially integrate and one of the last to include women and people of color in leadership roles. Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, D.C.: USDA Civil Rights Action Team, 1997.
  • 186. Joel Schor, “Fantasy and Reality: The Black Farmer’s Place in American Agriculture,” Agriculture and Human Values 9, no. 1 (1992): 75.
  • 187. “Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Civil Rights Action Team, December 1997), Cited in Jody Feder and Tadlock Cowan, “Garcia v. Vilsack: A Policy and Legal Analysis of a USDA Discrimination Case” (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013),
  • 188. “Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture,” December 1997; Cited in Feder and Cowan, “Garcia v. Vilsack.”
  • 189. “Secretary Vilsack’s Efforts to Address Discrimination at USDA” (Washington, D.C.: USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 2011),
  • xxxvi. The USDA Office of Civil Rights reopened in 1996 in part because of another USDA report that confirmed the findings of widespread discrimination. With data from 1990 to 1995, the report, found that “minorities received less than their fair share of USDA money for crop payments, disaster payments, and loans.” When the USDA Office of Civil Rights re-opened, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture, ordered the suspension of government farm foreclosures pending the outcome of another investigation into racial discrimination in the agency’s loan program. The 1997 USDA Civil Rights Action Team report found the agency’s system for handling civil rights complaints was still severely lacking. Cowan, Tadlock, and Jody Feder. The Pigford Case: USDA Settlement of a Discrimination Suit by Black Farmers. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service, 2008. Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture. Washington, D.C.: USDA Civil Rights Action Team, 1997.
  • xxxvii. Discrimination on the part of the USDA and FSA was therefore possible not only by the actions of a few people but also by the particular structure of decision-making and loan disbursement by the FSA committees themselves, with more than 8,000 county committee members that serve more than 2,400 FSA offices nationwide. Locally elected FSA committees decide who receives loans from USDA, the kind of loan they receive, and the terms of the loan. A 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service states, “Because of their authority to make decisions regarding the extension or denial of credit, it is possible for loan officers at county committees to reduce competition for favored groups and individuals. Thus, to favor certain groups and deny other individuals on the basis of group attributes, county committees could, over time, indirectly dispossess minority and other disfavored farmers of their land and equipment.” Feder, Jody, and Tadlock Cowan. Garcia v. Vilsack: A Policy and Legal Analysis of a USDA Discrimination Case. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2013.
  • 190. Michael T. Martin and Marilyn Yaquinto, Redress for Historical Injustices in the United States: On Reparations for Slavery, Jim Crow, and Their Legacies (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 663
  • 191. “Civil Rights at the United States Department of Agriculture,” December 1997.
  • xxxviii. Following on the heels of the first Pigford vs. Glickman case for Black farmers, for example, came a class action case by women farmers (Love v Vilsack), Latino/a farmers (Garcia v Vilsack), and Native American farmers (Keepseagle v Vilsack).
  • 192. Gilbert M. Gaul and Dan Morgan, “A Slow Demise in the Delta,” The Washington Post, June 20, 2007, sec. Nation, content/article/2007/06/19/AR2007061902193_4.html; Cited in Robert Zabawa et al., “Shut Out: How U.S. Farm Programs Fail Minority Farmers” (Washington, D.C.: Oxfam America, 2007).
  • 193. Feder and Cowan, “Garcia v. Vilsack,” 4.
  • xxxix. Specifically, the USDA finalized federal regulations that granted the Secretary of Agriculture greater authority in ensuring fair representation and participation of women and people of color on local Farm Service Agency (FSA) committees, increased transparency and accountability in the committee election process, and clarified requirements for committee membership
  • xl. It is worth noting that marginal farmland has, of course, not only been limited to farmers of color. High crop prices beginning in the late 1970s, for example, called forth greater supplies, as many farmers—including many white farmers—intensified production and farmed more marginal acres. Danbom, David B. Born in the Country: A History of Rural America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • 194. “Changes Give Minority and Women Farmers More Input on Farm Program,” National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, March 1, 2013,
  • 195. Robert H. Zieger, For Jobs and Freedom: Race and Labor in America Since 1865 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2014), 17–18.
  • 196. Laura Ackerman, Don Bustos, and Mark Muller, “Disadvantaged Farmers: Addressing Inequalities in Federal Programs for Farmers of Color” (Minneapolis: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, March 28, 2012).
  • 197. “Census of Agriculture, U.S. National Level Data, Table 61.”
  • 198. Ackerman, Bustos, and Muller, “Disadvantaged Farmers.”
  • xli. Scholars have also shown that such farmers are also particularly vulnerable to regulation intended to protect farmworkers on larger scale farms. Sowerwine, Jennifer, Christy Getz, and Nancy Peluso. “The Myth of the Protected Worker: Southeast Asian Micro-Farmers in California Agriculture.” Agriculture and Human Values, January 13, 2015, 1–17.
  • 199. 9 Gaul and Morgan, “A Slow Demise in the Delta”; Cited in Zabawa et al., “Shut Out: How U.S. Farm Programs Fail Minority Farmers.”
  • 200. “Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS): Farm Structure and Finance.”
  • 201. “Census of Agriculture, U.S. National Level Data, Table 61,” 61.
  • 202. White and Hoppe, “Changing Farm Structure and the Distribution of Farm Payments and Federal Crop Insurance.”
  • 203. Ibid.
  • 204. Barrett E. Kirwan, “The Incidence of U.S. Agricultural Subsidies on Farmland Rental Rates,” Journal of Political Economy 117, no. 1 (February 1, 2009): 138–64, doi:10.1086/598688; Cited in White and Hoppe, “Changing Farm Structure and the Distribution of Farm Payments and Federal Crop Insurance.”
  • 205. Lance George et al., “Taking Stock: Rural People, Poverty, and Housing at the Turn of the 21st Century” (Washington, D.C.: Housing Assistance Council, 2002).
  • 206. Ibid.
  • xlii. Rural Housing and Community Facilities programs offer loans, grants, and loan guarantees to build or improve housing and essential community facilities in rural areas. Rural Business programs offer loans, technical support, educational opportunities, and entrepreneurial skills in order to help rural residents start and grow businesses or access jobs in agricultural markets. Rural Utilities programs provide needed infrastructure or infrastructure improvements to rural communities.
  • 207. Walter A. Hill, Jillian Hishaw, and Tasha M. Hargrove, “Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Issues Can Be Addressed When Diverse Frontline Agricultural Workers Proactively Work Together,” Professional Agricultural Workers Journal 1, no. 1 (2013): 3; “Agencies: Rural Utilities Service,” USDA Rural Development, 2014,
  • xliii. Limited outreach and assistance efforts for farmers of color are a major part of the FSA’s discriminatory practices that ultimately impede access to key commodity programs and conservation programs. As such, it receives further attention in Part IV
  • 208. Hill, Hishaw, and Hargrove, “Socially Disadvantaged Farmer Issues Can Be Addressed When Diverse Frontline Agricultural Workers Proactively Work Together.
  • 209. “Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS): Farm Structure and Finance.”