Sid Miller is challenging a debt relief program that the U.S. Department of Agriculture saw as a way to correct historic discrimination. An advocate for Black Texas farmers says the challenge “pushes us back even further.”
Igalious “Ike” Mills grew up working his family’s farm in the Piney Woods town of Nacogdoches. His siblings still keep it running, relying on a lot of the same equipment used by their father and grandfather.
Mills, who is Black, spends much of his energy trying to connect a dwindling number of Black farmers with state and federal programs that can help them keep their operations running. So it was welcome news last year when Congress passed a law intended to help cover the debts of thousands of “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” and correct the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s historic discrimination, long recognized by the agency itself.
But Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller stepped in. He is among the many white litigants challenging the law, which a federal judge temporarily blocked as court cases play out. And even though Miller filed the suit in April as a private citizen, Mills says his perch as the state’s agriculture commissioner is stoking frustration from farmers of color who already distrust the government.
“They’re disappointed, number one,” said Mills, who is director of the Texas Agriforestry Small Farmers and Ranchers. “And like some of them are saying, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ That pushes us back even further in terms of trying to engage Black landowners to participate in USDA programs.”
Nationally, Black farmers have lost more than 12 million acres of farmland over the past century, according to the Washington Post, due to biased government policies and discriminatory business practices. In 1920, there were over 925,000 Black farmers in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But by 1997, their numbers had fallen to just under 18,500.
Recent data suggest the USDA continues to disproportionately reject Black farmers for loans. According to a CNN analysis, 42% of Black farmers were rejected for direct USDA loans in 2021, more than any other demographic group.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: KERA; Texas Tribune, James Pollard