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Study Says Black Farmers Shut Out by U.S. Farm Policy

Minority farmers get
few benefits from U.S. farm policy, which favors large producers and
landowners, according to a study released Thursday.

Just 18 percent of black
farmers received government payments in 2002 compared with 34 percent of white
farmers, according to the study, done by the anti-poverty advocacy group Oxfam
America and based on research from Tuskegee University in Alabama and the
University of Minnesota. The average payment for black farmers was $3,460
versus $9,300 for whites, the study said.

Overall, although 5
percent of the nation’s farmers are minorities, they get just 1 percent of
federal commodity payments.

At a press conference on
Capitol Hill, Oxfam America called on Congress to change course with the new
farm bill slated for passage later this year, highlighting the stories of
several minority farmers from across the country.

The farmers said
inequities have developed for various reasons, including discrimination at
local USDA offices and a mountain of complicated paperwork. In many cases, poor
minorities living in rural areas don’t even know they are eligible for government

Also, federal policy
created decades ago to ensure a stable domestic food supply primarily
encourages commodity crops such as corn, wheat and cotton, and is designed to
serve large producers. Minorities, they said, have traditionally had smaller
farms and grown vegetables or raised livestock.

“Commodity programs
are fully supported, but small farmers aren’t getting anything,” said Don
Bustos, whose Hispanic and Native American ancestors have operated a farm for centuries in
northern New Mexico. “We’re getting chump change.”

“I don’t want to
grow yellow corn for ethanol,” added Victor Almazan, a California
vegetable farmer. “I want to grow sweet corn on the cob.”

Ben Burkett, a fourth
generation black farmer from Petal, Miss., said the current policy is steadily
eroding the ranks of minority farmers.

The House began marking
up farm legislation this week to replace the current five-year law, which
expires this year. The bill has not yet begun moving in the Senate.

“We cannot stand
silently by while these kinds of inequities exist,” said Rep. Donald
Payne, D-N.J.

– Associated Press

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