The Obama administration announced a $1.25 billion settlement February 18 with thousands of black farmers who had claimed that they had been discriminated against by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its loan programs for decades.
This settlement follows a related settlement in 1999 in which $1 billion was provided to 16,000 black farmers. Notification errors left many eligible farmers out of that settlement, errors which critics said was a continuation of discriminatory practices. The left out group of farmers filed suit, known as the Pigford Class Action Lawsuit. If 25,000 farmers share in the settlement, it would equal $50,000 for each claimant.
A number of organizations have been advocating for this second settlement, including the National Black Farmer Association and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives. Many farmers lost their farm property waiting for the USDA to act on their loan applications.
To commemorate the settlement, I took a look at the 2007 USDA data on African American farmers. What is most striking is the low average of total sales per farm: among the 12 states with at least 1000 African American farmers, only one has an average annual sales figure of greater than $45,000 - North Carolina, with average sales of about $68,000.
Even more shocking, four of these 12 states have average annual sales among African American farmers of less than $20,000, including Texas, which has the most black farmers, and Oklahoma, which comes in lowest, at $10,024. In farming there is a very direct correlation between ability to obtain a loan for seed or equipment and the revenue generated by the crops at the end of a season.