Trump’s Farm Bailout Program Continues USDA’s Racist Legacy
President Trump’s tariffs are a disaster for American soybean farmers, effectively cutting off access to China, their largest market. The Department of Agriculture’s bailout program has not helped most of them, because the bulk of payments go to the biggest and richest farmers. And recently, a fourth-generation Virginia soybean grower told Congress these Market Facilitation Program Payments overwhelmingly benefit white male farmers.
John Boyd is founder and president of the 109,000-member Black Farmers Association. Testifying before the House Committee on Financial Services, Boyd said the Trump tariffs are “a national crisis” for farmers – and that small minority farmers are hurting the most:
It seems as though many have turned a deaf ear to America’s small farmers and black farmers alike. . . . Anytime the government gets involved, when they say it’s going to be a speedy payment to farmers, it’s always last for African American farmers, it’s always last for Latino farmers, for small-scale farmers and for women farmers.
China responded to Trump’s tariffs on Chinese aluminum and steel by slapping retaliatory tariffs on more than 800 American food and farm products. The total tariff rate on soybeans is 27 percent, effectively closing the Chinese market to farmers like Boyd – perhaps forever. American soybean farmers may never regain access to the world’s biggest soybean market.
Boyd testified that soybean farmers are being forced to sell at a price below the cost of production, losing money on each bushel they sell if they are able to sell their crops at all. Boyd said the local silo refused to buy his soybeans, citing Trump’s trade war.
The Market Facilitation Program payments, or MFPs, are supposed to soften the blow. But Boyd and other minority farmers are being left behind – one more example of the USDA’s racially discriminatory treatment, a pattern that goes back to the Depression of the 1930s, when the federal government first got involved in the agricultural market.
As EWG reported two years ago, the USDA has a shameful legacy of not only leaving minority farmers out of the farm subsidy system but also actively fighting their efforts for legal restitution by destroying documents and treating black farmers as adversaries. Recent efforts to clean up the department’s racist past appear cosmetic at best, as documented by an in-depth investigation just published by the website The New Food Economy.
Because of decades of systemic discrimination, black and minority farmers were unable to amass the taxpayer-funded capital modern megafarms used to grow their operations into industrial-scale grain factories. Because of widespread exclusion from subsidy programs narrowly focused on high-value commodity crops, many minority farmers simply started growing different crops.
Which brings us to the current MFP program.
USDA has pledged up to $28 billion in two rounds of payments meant to compensate farmers for the loss of the Chinese and other foreign markets. And even before the second round has been paid out, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest and most influential agriculture lobby is calling for a third round of payments.
Because the program’s payments are tied to production, the largest and most successful producers are collecting the lion’s share of the funding. Although some large farmers received nearly $1 million for crops harvested in 2018, so far most family farmers have received less than $5,000.
According to EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database, in 2018 the largest 10 percent of MFP recipients received more than half of total payments. Rather than adopt strict payment and income limits, as the Trump administration proposed for farm subsidies in its FY 2019 and FY 2020 budget requests, the administration instead chose to apply the same broken rules that for decades have funneled farm subsidies to the biggest farms.
These rules are especially unfair to African-American, Latino and Latina, and Asian farmers, who tend to have smaller operations than white farmers – and are less likely to be eligible for government farm supports at all.
Meanwhile, the same elite niche of wealthy white landowners continues to harvest taxpayer dollars, and minority farmers like Boyd are left to contend with destroyed markets and a pile of unpaid bills. It’s the continuation of a shameful legacy that must end. As John Boyd testified:
I believe in treating every person, regardless of party, with dignity and respect. And I can tell you right now, my financial situation on my farm isn’t Republican. My financial situation on my farm isn’t Democrat. My financial situation on the farm is real. . . . We need to make sure that farmers like myself, that look like me, can get a check too.