Black Farmers Across the U.S. Struggling to Survive as They Face Disparities Across the Board

Photos by Nitashia Johnson for CNN

Texas cattle rancher Deydra Steans quit her teaching job three years ago to help save her family’s farming operations.

She was prepared for the strenuous task of herding animals. Steans, 41, usually begins her day at 7 a.m. with her 68-year-old father, Elvin Steans. The pair talk over breakfast and a cup of coffee and then head out onto their ranch to feed cattle. She often drives the skid steer, a subcompact tractor that is used for a variety of farm tasks such as clearing brush and digging holes, across the 220-acre property. Some days last until the late evenings as she takes business calls while on the go to meet with other farmers. But what keeps her up at night are the mounting bills and whether she can make the next payment.

Other days she starts her mornings talking with an Internal Revenue Service officer because one of their farms, a 54-acre property, is facing seizure from the Internal Revenue Service and is up for sale. Last month, she was forced to sell eight calves and a cow to help cover an annual payment for a livestock loan.

Steans is among the hundreds of Black farmers who have been rejected for loans from the US Department of Agriculture in the past two years.

A CNN analysis of recent data from the agency found that more farmers of color, especially Black and Asian farmers, have been rejected for loans while the agency approved more loans for White farmers. The loan disparities persist as White farmers are suing over what they say is discriminatory language after President Joe Biden signed a Covid relief package into law earlier this year. It included $4 billion to help pay off farm loans for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers — a group that includes Black and other minority farmers.

Rejection rates for loans from the USDA were comparable for White farmers and for all non-White farmers in 2017 but diverged sharply after 2019, according to 2017-21 fiscal year USDA data obtained by CNN through a Freedom of Information Act request. The divergence is primarily driven by higher rejections for Black and Asian farmers.

Black and Asian farmers had already been rejected for loans at higher rates than other farmers, but their rejections increased significantly under the Trump administration in 2020 and the first partial year of the Biden administration.

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SOURCE: CNN, Chandelis Duster and Janie Boschma