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How the economic relief law narrows the equity gap for farmers of color

The COVID relief and economic package is a massive bill that has a far-reaching impact in ways that many Americans don't know about yet. One provision calls for debt relief for Black farmers, who have long been denied access to government funding. John Boyd, a fourth-generation farmer in Virginia and president of the National Black Farmers Association, joins Lisa Desjardins to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The COVID relief law is massive, with far-reaching impact. It includes debt relief for America's Black farmers, long denied government funding.

    Lisa Desjardins reports.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Judy, the new law allocates $5 billion for farmers of color.

    Most of that aims to erase their debt by paying 120 percent of their federally backed farm loans. The USDA tells "NewsHour" that that would help some 14,000 farmers, providing $175,000 in relief, on average. The struggles of black farmers have been particularly acute.

    John Boyd is a farmer in Southwest Virginia, and, himself, he is also the head of the National Black Farmers Association.

    Let's start right away. How would this money help Black farmers?

  • John Boyd:

    Well, it's going to give them a jump-start in their farming operation.

    And, first and foremost, this measure is historic in nature. It provides $5 billion, $4 billion for debt relief and other incentives, and $1 billion for outreach and to set up a commission and really look at the issues of discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture, something I was trying to do for about 30 years.

    So, this is a huge step in the right direction, especially for Congress and for the Ag Department.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You are a fourth-generation farmer. You're talking about historic discrimination from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in particular. We're talking about loans denied, loans underfunded.

    Can you take us through how that actually worked for individual farmers like you? What did you experience?

  • John Boyd:

    Well, basically, many Black farmers experienced blatant discrimination at the United States Department of Agriculture.

    And, as a farmer, I had my loan application torn and tossed in the trash can. I have been spat on by the person responsible for making farm loans in my county here in Mecklenburg County, Virginia. So, discrimination was very, very pervasive, where many Black farmers was just flat-out denied an application.

    And they would come into the office and the local officials would say, we don't have any money available. And when white farmers came in, they would process their loans less than 30 days. And, for Black farmers, it took 387 days, on average, to process our loans.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I have to circle back. You were spat at by a federal official?

  • John Boyd:

    Yes, chewing tobacco. He's chewing tobacco, juicy, spat on my shirt.

    And when they came out, the USDA civil rights person investigated him. They asked him, did you spat on Mr. Boyd's shirt? He said, well, yes, he accidentally missed his spat can. They asked him, did he have problems making loans to Black farmers, that he only made two that particular year? And he said: "Well, yes, I think they are lazy and look for a paycheck on Friday."

    That's the type of discriminatory demeanor that prevented Black farmers from prospering in this country, when we were denied for access of credit based on — based on his race.

    So, he — he would only see Black farmers on Wednesday, so we named it Black Wednesday in our county. All of my letters had 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, so and so. And he would speak loudly and boastfully and downward towards elderly Black farmers, calling them boy.

    So, these people were preachers and deacons and leaders in their community. And this kind of supervisor was referring to them as a boy, and how he wasn't going to lend us any of his money.

    And if you quote me right, I believe it's the government's — it is the government's — it's taxpayers' money, not his money.

    So, that's the type of discrimination we were facing, and not just in my county, but this is — this was a national epidemic. And I would like to call it a national disgrace, an embarrassment for our country that we live in.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You know, the statistics are just really hard to grasp. Black farmers in this country from 1910 to 1997 lost 90 percent of their acreage.

    I wonder, do you think this money will actually reverse the problem, meaning, will it expand the number of farmers of color? Or does this money just sort of kind of stem the tide and stop things from getting worse?

  • John Boyd:

    Well, I'm hopeful that we will have some time to regroup.

    So, if a farmer can have his debt removed or forgiven, that gives that farmer a little bit of time to look at his farming operation, revamp, regroup. And it also gives us an opportunity to stop some of the foreclosures that have been happening against farmers — Black farmers.

    So, we will be able to keep more Black farmers on the farm and also give them the opportunity to rebuild their farming operation. And that's what I have been after the whole time with my (AUDIO GAP) work.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    What do you say to white farmers who see this as reverse discrimination, and they say they're struggling also?

  • John Boyd:

    And I could hear somebody saying that.

    But $29 billion that went out under the previous administration, the Trump administration, Black farmers and farmers of color virtually absolutely, billions and billions of dollars and loans and subsidies and debt forgiveness. Black farmers have been left out of the equation for decades.

    What do you call that, is my question to them? And why — when they hear about this discrimination, why didn't some of those farmers speak out and said, you know what, we do need to treat Black farmers with dignity and respect? That's my question.

    And I'm not against them receiving the loans, when the act of Mother Nature shows her beautiful face and floods and all of these things. We want the same thing. And if you were treating Black farmers fairly and equally, we wouldn't need a special bill here in the year 2021.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    John Boyd, soybean farmer and president of the National Black Farmers Association, thank you for joining us.

  • John Boyd:

    Thank you for having me.

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