DSU hosts first Black Farmers' Conference, discusses barriers to underserved farmers
Delaware State University is hosting the first Black Farmers’ Conference – a two-day event for industry figures to bring awareness to the struggles Black farmers face and discuss solutions.
Dean of DSU’s College of Agriculture, Science and Technology Cherese Winstead says the Black Farmers’ Conference is needed now more than ever with agriculture program enrollment numbers steadily decreasing and the number of Black farmers overall hitting an all time low.
“The numbers of our farmers went drastically from 17% in the early 1900s to about 1.7% in 2023, and so now we’re at a critical point where the numbers of our underserved farmers are at a dismal amount," Winstead said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation Gloria Montaño Greene says the federal government is working to reduce barriers, especially financial, that may keep farmers of color from being successful, or out of the industry altogether.
In an effort to restore its historically poor relationship with minority farmers, the Inflation Reduction Act allocated federal funding to the USDA to begin that process.
“Congress provided the U.S. Department of Agriculture with $2.2 billion to be able to provide payments to farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who experienced discrimination in USDA farmland programs prior to January 2021. That application is currently open."
"It is one of the programs that we’re doing to be able to look at how we build USDA to be a more inclusive and equitable part and move forward on accessibility in agriculture. It is a financial assistance payment that Congress has provided to be able to address that past discrimination," Montaño Greene said.
In addition to these reparations, she discussed an expansion in the USDA’s insurance programs to include micro farms – a decision particularly applicable for Delaware farmers.
“In Secretary Scuse’s comments, he said that the majority of acres are less than five acres here in Delaware. Within Risk Management Agency, we’ve added new crop insurance availability for micro farms, and also small farms at the five acre and less level might be interested in the whole-farm expansion that we’ve done to make sure that that risk management tool is available to them in smaller sizes.”
Montaño Greene adds there is still plenty of work to be done in reducing industry barriers for Black farmers, and while her agency is working to implement those programs, the most important factor is encouraging farmers who may have had bad experiences with the USDA in the past to give them another try.
“We’ve been looking at our loan servicing work; how do we reduce that application burden – that’s a huge part of ag financing – how are we working with, perhaps, cooperators or trusted third-party organizations to talk about USDA, because maybe USDA talking about it may not be the entrance. So we’ve been having a lot of conversations with cooperators and funding cooperators to be able to have that education outreach."
"We’ve been looking at programs of change, so for example, the Emergency Relief Program for those that have been impacted by disaster – at Farm Service Agency, we just implemented a program based on revenue base instead of land base – that’s a huge game changer. And we’ve also done an investment in increasing land access. This summer we announced about $300 million in grants to be able to test and learn ‘what is the role that federal can provide?’ as we work with state and local governments on that land access capacity."
"And the greatest thing is making sure that farmers that are in business that, they might have had a different experience with USDA [in the past], but they should come back in, and if they still have some concerns with USDA to call the hotline or call the national offices so that we can help them navigate them," Montaño Greene said.
While this is the first Black Farmers’ conference, Dean Winstead hopes it’s one of many in a continued effort to address challenges for Black and underserved farmers.