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Minority Farmers Left Out of Farm Bill

April 23, 2012

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Farmers who are African-American, Latino, or members of other minority groups in Michigan are concerned about cuts to the new Farm Bill now in Congress. Minority farmers have faced adversity over the years, not only from weather and the economy, but also from lack of access to funding and USDA grants.

Now, a program that ensures they get a fair share has been zeroed out in an early draft of the 2012 Farm Bill. "Section 2501" was originally prompted by discrimination lawsuits.

Morse Brown, who works to educate Michigan minority farmers as program director for the Michigan multicultural farmers program at Michigan Food and Farming Systems (MIFFS), says it has been important in helping to end years of discrimination.

"In many instances when farmers came to the Farm Service Agency offices, they were told programs were not available, when they were available."

Or he says they were told they didn't qualify, when they really did. He says even now, he sometimes accompanies farmers to apply for programs, just to ensure that they are treated fairly.

Brown says many of the minority farmers he meets are surprised to find out that they qualify for federal help.

"Many of them had gotten to the point that they thought the programs weren't meant for them."

He says that sometimes, even after these farmers found out that they qualified for programs, they'd still get no help.

"When people would find out the programs were available, they would say the money was not available."

More than 200 groups around the nation have sent a letter to Congress urging support for socially-disadvantaged and beginning farmers. Supporters of the newest version of the Senate Farm Bill say it cuts $23 billion from the budget by streamlining, consolidating, and closing loopholes.

The Senate Agriculture Committee takes up the current Farm Bill draft later this week.

More information is at tinyurl.com/cfp4p63.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - MI