Volume 6, Number 5                                     December 12, 2002

The Farmer


Lying while counting

by Dr. Ridgely Abdul Muímin Muhammad

Since the announcement of the NAACPís visit to Cuba and the subsequent agreement that was reached concerning Cubaís desire to purchase agricultural products from Black farmers in America, I have been asked my opinion. As a farmer and activist I feel that this relationship will become a great benefit to both Cuba and Black farmers. However, as an agricultural economist I must look at the actual facts and determine when and how to take advantage of such an opportunity. I must look at the cost and returns structure of the commodities to be exported and the physical capacity of the farmers to produce these commodities and get them to the port.

Whenever such opportunities arise for white farmers, the US department of Agriculture goes to their database to determine how many acres are presently devoted to the requested crops and how much excess production capacity is available on the nationís farms to increase such production if required. The US department of Agriculture has such information on Black farmers but declares that it can not aggregate according to race as of 1997. You can go to the 1982, 1987 and 1992 volumes of the "Census of Agriculture" and determine how many farmers were "Black", their total acreage, average value of equipment and average age. However, starting in 1997 they lumped Black farmers in with other minorities such as Latin Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans, which makes it impossible to make a distinction.

We as Black farm activists KNOW that they have such data separated according to race, but the USDA CLAIMS that they can not give that data to us. In other words, they are lying. However, this places the burden on us to find such information on our own which is a daunting task because Black farmers are scattered all over the country. It is a shame that we have paid our tax dollars to this government to conduct a census, then they wickedly withhold data that we need to make analyses.

To verify my comments go to the Internet at: http://www.nass.usda.gov/census/census97/volume1/us-51/us1_16.pdf . You will see that Black farmers are lumped in with other non-white groups which comprise a total of 47,658. However, if you get the Economic Research Serviceís November 1999 "Agricultural Outlook" you will find this quotation in the article "FSA Credit Programs Target Minority Farmers":

"From 1992 to 1997, the total number of farms operated by Blacks, American Indians, and other racial minority groups rose 10 percent to 47,658. In addition, the number of farmers who claimed a Hispanic or Latino background rose 32 percent to 27,717. Growth in Hispanic or Latino farmers and Asian farmers is consistent with growth of these racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. population.

The number of Black-operated farms, unlike farms of most other racial minority groups, declined slightly from 1992 to 1997 -- to just 18,451--and may continue to decline. Black farmers on average are older than farmers of other racial groups. Only 4 percent of Black farmers are under 35 years of age, while nearly a quarter are at least 70 years old."

How can an office on one side of the USDA building in DC have this breakdown by race while the other office claims that they do not have such a breakdown? We Black farmers know that they not only have such a breakdown but also have every phone number and address of each Black farmer, but will not give it to Black farm organizations. We also know that they have every name and address of each person that signed on to the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, but will not give that out to Black farm organizations. However, somehow the names of each Black farmer that got a check were sent out to other banks and lending agencies whom these farmers may have owed. We know that the FBI has been harassing some recipients of the $50,000 reward from the lawsuit, while yet denying us information which would allow us to organize our farmers. Welcome to America.

But letís go back to some aspects of this report. The title itself is misleading, "FSA Credit Programs Target Minority Farmers", if we are to accept the sworn declaration of Attorney Rosalind Gray who was appointed the head of the Civil Rights Division of the USDA in 1998. She states: "After all the investigations and findings of discrimination, after all the findings that FSA was not in compliance with civil rights regulations, after the millions paid by FSA in settlement of administrative complaints and after the many more millions in debt that FSA has forgiven, there still has not been any change in the way programs are administered. There were many recommendations for change. Yet systemic exclusion of minority farmers remains the standard operating procedure for FSA."

Her full 7 page testimony which you can find at www.MuhammadFarms.com is well worth the read. But this issue of capital availability is most critical for a group of farmers who have been deprived of their equitable share of the tax payer dollars and put out of business. On the other hand those same tax dollars were used to keep other farmers afloat during times of disaster or low market prices. I did a simple analysis using Census of Agriculture Data from 1982 to 1992 and found that white farmers received over $331 billion dollars in subsidies which averaged out to $1,023 per cropland acreage. The Black farmers received only $273 per acre over this same time horizon and were shorted over $1 billion dollars as a group. Now this new opportunity arises and instead of this government replacing that $1 billion that they stole, they offer $100 million in additional loan programs, that they know these farmers will not qualify for. They will not qualify because they can not add in the government subsidy that the white farmers know that they will receive which is added to their cash flow statement. Not one Black farmer who "won" in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit and went back to the FSA to get his "priority loan" has received a dime in loans. Why? Their budgets wonít cash flow.

And letís be real, would you loan a farmer who is over 70 years old money to buy a tractor that it will take at least 5 years to pay back the note? Remember, at least 25% of the Black farmers are over 70 years old. That being said, let us move on to develop a framework for analysis.

First of all we need to develop a "census" or database of sorts for ourselves. We have contacted the Black land grant institutions to help us develop such a database. However, according to Dr. Alton Thompson, the Dean of Agriculture for North Carolina A&T State University, the Black colleges do not yet have such a database. However, N.C. A&T has developed a research project that is addressing this need, but the findings and data will not be available for a few years. We need answers now, so we are suggesting that all Black farmers and agri-business firms who can make the opportunity with Cuba become a reality come to the "5th Annual Black Land Loss Summit" to be held in Greensboro, N.C. on February 7-9, 2003. Please go to www.MuhammadFarms.com and click on "Black Land Loss Summit" to get more details. We must get as many "players" together in one location, so that we can make an accurate determination and develop realistic strategies for success. We must do it now, because our Black farmers are growing older everyday.