Some farmers could face foreclosure on USDA loans as soon as this fall, so the department may begin providing some newly authorized debt relief through a phased-in approach in order to address the immediate need for help, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday.

The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law earlier this month included $3.1 billion earmarked for farmers that USDA deems to be “distressed.” The program replaces an earlier one that was limited to minority farmers; several judges ruled that basing the aid on race or ethnicity was unconstitutional.

Although USDA will need time to define eligibility for the new program, Vilsack noted that a current foreclosure moratorium will be lifted when the federal government's public health emergency expires. It is currently set to end in October but could be extended again. Vilsack said about 22% of USDA farm loans are delinquent or have been delinquent.

“We are certainly focused on making sure that we have in place ideas and thoughts about how best to proceed to help and assist those distressed farmers, who when the moratorium is lifted could be faced with the possibility of foreclosure or additional action,” Vilsack said.

Since the moratorium could end as soon as October, “it very well could be that we we do this in steps and a series of steps," he said of the debt relief.

He stressed that the purpose of the program is to “keep people on their land.”

Vilsack separately announced Wednesday that USDA will put $550 million into finding ways to help minorities gain access to land, capital and agricultural markets and to supply the future federal workforce and fill jobs in the agriculture and food sectors.

The funding and authority for the initiatives originated with the American Rescue Plan, enacted in March 2021, and then modified by the Inflation Reduction Act.

 Sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

As much as $300 million is earmarked for projects aimed at helping farmers get access to land, capital and markets. Organizations and government agencies interested in operating projects have until Oct. 28 to apply for funding.

“We're looking for innovative partners from all parts of the country, who will help unserved or underserved producers overcome the barriers to accessing land capital and markets,” he said.

Military veterans could be among the beneficiaries of the projects, he said.

The other $250 million USDA is allocating is designed to help minority-serving colleges and universities attracting and retaining students who can find “careers in food, agriculture, and related disciplines, with an emphasis on federal government sector employment,” according to a USDA statement.

“The food and agriculture industry must reflect the full diversity of America that the industry seeks to serve today and into the future,” Vilsack said.

The debt relief program funded by the IRA isn’t restricted to minorities, and USDA has broad authority to decide how the assistance is allocated for holders of both direct and guaranteed loans.

Under the bill, the department is supposed to “provide relief to those borrowers whose agricultural operations are at financial risk.” There is no limit in the law on the amount of the payments, which could cover the cost of the loans or the cost of modifying them.

A separate provision of the bill authorizes USDA to provide $2.2 billion aid to victims of discrimination. Vilsack said. Congress left it to USDA to determine eligibility for the assistance, but the discrimination must have occurred prior to January 2021 and have involved USDA lending programs. Payments under the program would be capped at $500,000 per producer. 

Vilsack said it was premature to discuss the department’s plans for the program, but he noted that the law requires it to be administered by one or more nongovernmental entities selected by USDA.

For more news, go to