Minority farmers and producers considered to be historically underserved by federal programs, including beginning farmers, received less than 4% of the payments provided by the Trump administration’s Market Facilitation Program, according to the Government Accountability Office.
At the same time, wealthy farmers with adjusted gross incomes of at least $900,000 a year received $193 million in total MFP payments, about 0.7% of the money USDA distributed for 2018 and 2019, according to GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
Then-President Donald Trump authorized the payments to compensate farmers for the impact retaliatory tariffs imposed on U.S. ag exports after he slapped stiff duties on goods from China and other countries in a bid to address what he saw as unfair trade imbalances and barriers to U.S. exports.
USDA paid out $23 billion in MFP payments over the two-year period. The 2018 program was largely limited to crops such as corn, cotton, soybeans, wheat, sweet cherries, almonds, milk and hogs. The 2019 program was expanded to substantially more row crops as well as fruits and tree nuts.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat who requested the GAO analysis, believes it shows the program was unfair to growers of specialty crops — primarily fruits, vegetables and nuts — as well as historically underserved groups.
“President Trump’s trade wars affected every corner of our agricultural sector —and unfortunately USDA’s response fell short. We have to make sure there is fairness and accountability so all farmers can get the support they need from USDA,” she said.
The definition of underserved farmers includes racial minorities, women, low-income producers, beginning farmers and veterans who are new to agriculture. To be classified as underserved, the producer must own at least 50% of his or her farm. Altogether, historically underserved farmers received $819 million, or 3.6%, of the total MFP payments.
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Farmers who applied for the payments were allowed an to certify that they belonged to one of the groups that USDA categorizes as historically underserved.
The GAO report didn’t break down the payment recipients by race, but minority farmers represent a relatively small share of U.S. ag production.
USDA’s 2017 agriculture census reported 86,278 Hispanic farmers who operated 4% of U.S. farms and had 5.6% of total commodity sales. The 35,470 producers who identified as Black accounted for 1.7% of farms and 0.4% of commodity sales.
There were 60,083 American Indian farmers, accounting for 2.9% of operations and 0.9% of sales.
USDA spokesperson Kate Waters said the GAO report "confirms what we already knew to be true: that the trade war under the previous administration was catastrophic for America’s farmers, and that the recovery implemented under the Market Facilitation Program was uneven and unfair — leaving entire regions of the country, women, farmers of color, specialty crop producers, veterans, beginning farmers and ranchers, and smaller producers behind."
The relatively small amount of money that went to underserved farmers "is a prime example of why at Secretary (Tom) Vilsack’s direction we began re-evaluating USDA’s decades-old programs and processes from top to bottom to more equitably serve all of America’s producers on day one," she said.
GAO found flaws in the Farm Service Agency’s process for spot-checking payments. In a response to the report, FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said USDA would address recommendations in the GAO report by tightening controls over future payment programs.
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