Posted on July 16, 2019

The USDA Gives Fewer Loans to Women and Minority Farmers, a Government Watchdog Finds

Emily Moon, Pacific Standard, July 12, 2019

It’s been more than a decade since a group of African-American, Latinx, indigenous, and women farmers first sued the United States Department of Agriculture for its discriminatory lending practices in several class action lawsuits.

For years, the department that provides financial support to farmers denied loans to women and people of color at higher rates than their white male counterparts. This discrimination helped ensure that the most profitable producers would be white and male, and nearly drove African-American farmers off their land: Between 1910 and 2007, black farmers lost 80 percent of their farmland, in part because they lacked access to loans or insurance.

According to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, very little has changed. Congress’ non-partisan investigative agency found that women and minorities—who already comprise a disproportionately small share of U.S. farmers—have a harder time obtaining loans and credit from private lenders and banks regulated by the USDA, and from the department itself. Often, these loans make the difference in whether a farmer can afford to keep an operation running, or whether beginning farmers—often recent immigrants—can break into the business.

{snip}

The report gives several possible reasons for the gender and racial disparity. Minority farmers “are more likely to operate smaller, lower-revenue farms, have weaker credit histories, or lack clear title to their agricultural land, which can make it difficult for them to qualify for loans,” the authors write. {snip}

While the Farm Credit Administration, which regulates banks that give loans to farmers, requires banks to create plans for outreach to minority farmers, there’s little in the way of enforcement: The GAO report notes the agency does not require lenders to meet specific lending goals.

On top of this, researchers say women and minority farmers are underrepresented in the official data. Until 2017, the department’s census only counted one primary producer per farm, leaving out many women. A recent investigation found the department misled the public on its diversity efforts as well: Under the Obama administration, the USDA touted its civil rights record while failing to address ongoing discrimination, the New Food Economy found.

{snip}

[Editor’s Note: For more on handouts for non-white farmers, see AR’s 2010 article “Who Wants to Be a Black Millionaire?”]