The USDA and The Value of Black Land

Yes, the USDA just signed a $1.25 billion discrimination settlement with thousands of black farmers. But those farmers won’t be holding their breath while they wait for the check to clear.

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A Snapshot of a Black Farmer

In 1910, blacks owned more than 15 million acres of mostly Southern land. A century later, the 2005 U.S. Agricultural Census reports that of the nation’s 1 billion arable acres, only about 1 million acres are black-owned.

Al Hooks is almost the model, average black farmer, as per the Department of Agriculture 2007 census data. Hooks is 61, owns about 200 acres—or roughly twice the average black spread—and made about $21,000 last year. By contrast, the average white farmer is 57, owns 418 acres and boasts sales of about $135,000.

Of this new settlement, which is expected to start making payouts in 2011, Hooks has one question: “What do I have to do to reopen my claim?”

Patience Is Part of Farming

There was a lot of jubilation at the settlement’s announcement. Gary Grant, president of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association, is hoping that all the celebrating doesn’t turn out to be premature. President Obama has put the settlement into the budget, but it is up to Congress to pass it,” Grant says. “Then we’ll see if the USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice create as many roadblocks as they did with Pigford I. There are farmers from that one still waiting for their $50,000.”