April 11, 2000
Contact: Jerry Pennick  (404) 765-0991
When Programs Make A Positive Impact:
Providing Technical Assistance To Black Farmers Leading To An Increase in Black Farmers

By Edward “Jerry” Pennick & Heather Gray

SUMMARY The 1997 agriculture census revealed a significant increase in Black farmers in the 13 Georgia counties in which the Federation is offering technical assistance - an increase that could not have happened by chance. Clearly, as indicated in this report, providing information and technical assistance to farmers makes a difference in the livelihood of individual farmers and the communities where they reside.

                 In 1969, it was predicted that by the year 2000, there would be no black-owned land in America. At that time, blacks owned six million acres, but were losing land at an annual rate of over 300,000 acres. In 1982 the US Commission on Civil Rights published a report stating that the primary reason Blacks have lost land is because of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) itself.  The 1982 report confirmed what was already legendary - that assistance provided by the USDA Extension Services throughout the country has often been denied minority farmers resulting in tragic consequences for family farmers and their communities. 
                After a extensive coalition building and strong advocacy efforts on the part of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, this injustice was partially rectified by the passage of the Minority Farmer Rights Act (Section 2501)  entitled the “Outreach and Technical Assistance Program for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers”, which was incorporated into the 1990 Farm Bill.   While Congress approved an annual budget of $10 million for Section 2501 it has yet to appropriate an average of $3 million since its passage - find which are distributed between land grant colleges and community based organization. 
              With the passage and implementation of this legislation, 1890 “Black” Land Grant Colleges and community based organizations (CBOs) have been able to implement a comprehensive, technical assistance program to help farmers develop a holistic approach to farming that helps make farming more profitable and improves the quality of life for entire communities.
              The 2501 outreach program to farmers has made a considerable and positive impact  on Black farmer survival which is indicated by the 1997 agriculture census.
              Studies have found that the agriculture census is not necessarily an accurate reflection of the total number of Black farmers, in fact, there are probably more Black farmers than indicated in the census. Still, this five year census report it is our best measurement over time. 
              While the Federation offers technical assistance to farmers from its fofices in South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia and Misssissippi, our 2501 project in Georgia is our oldest and largest. To date, we have 18 Georgia counties in the project. The 1997 census states there are 1,175 Black farmers in Georgia of which 328 or 28% reside in our eighteen 2501 counties. 
              In Georgia, 111 counties reported a population of Black farmers. Statewide, from 1992 to 1997, there was an increase of 95 Black farmers. Of the 18 counties in our 2501 project there was an actual increase of 66 Black farmers. Interestingly, the increase in our 2501 Georgia project, then, represents 73% of the increase in Black farmers in the State of Georgia. 
              Given the above percentage changes, we are very optimistic. As to what accounts for this optimistic trend, there are perhaps many explanations. It is important to note that the 1997 census was for the first time administered by the US Department of Agriculture rather than the US Census Bureau. This change in the administering of the census could be one factor. Perhaps the USDA encouraged more participation by farmers in the census. But the above analysis seems to indicate there might be something else impacting on the Black farmer community.
              The  73% increase of Black farmers in Georgia occurring 13 counties is not likely to have happened by chance. It is in these counties where there has been a long and sustained outreach effort through the Federation’s 2501 technical assistance project.  Given this, it seems fairly clear that when services, information and technical assistance are provided to farmers and their community there will be a positive response.
             Our initial findings from the 1997 census indicate that 2501 has been successful in fulfilling it’s mandate of providing services to Black farmers. It is therefore imperative that 2501 remain an integral part of the USDA’s outreach effort and be adequately and permanently funded by Congress.
              In 1997, under the direction of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and Assistant Secretary for Administration, Pearlie Reed, the USDA’s Civil Rights Action Team (CRAT) held listening sessions across the country which dramatically revealed the dismal record of racial discrimination, neglect and abuses by the USDA. This led to the development of 92 recommendations by CRAT to address these problems within the USDA.  The Civil Rights Action Team and Civil Rights Implementation Team work is encouraging and we in the Federation welcome and support these courageous, if long overdue, initiatives.
             To adequately address the needs of Black farmers and other underserved farmers, what’s needed now is: (1) Full funding ($10 million) of the Section 2501 Outreach, Education and Technical Assistance Program; (2)  Full appropriation and targeting of FSA Farm Ownership and Operating Loans (with emphasis on direct rather than guaranteed loans) for people of color and limited resource farmers; (3) Equity in the selection of farmer members of the Farm Service Agency controlled County Committees; (4) Full implementation of all 92 CRAT recommendations; (5) Appropriation of $10 million for the Cooperative Development Grants Program (formerly Section 2347 FACT).
             While the latest Agricultural Census for the first time this century revealed only slight decline in the overall rate of African-American owned farm loss, in fact there was reported an increase in some states.  We believe these encouraging statistics are due in large part to the work that CBO’s and 1890 Land Grant Colleges have able to accomplish under 2501 - an impact that could have been far greater given the full funding of 2501. Finally, fully funding the 2501 Program at the approved $10 million would be minuscule on the overall USDA budget, yet its economic, social and political impact on Black America would be almost immeasurable. 

For more details on this article contact Jerry Pennick of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund at (404) 765 0991.


Note: The Federation/LAF, now in its 33rdyear,  assists Black family farmers across the South with farm management, debt restructuring, alternative crop suggestions, marketing expertise and a whole range of services to ensure family farm survivability.