Where Have All the Black Farmers Gone? 

What happened to all the Black Farmers? As the 2023 Farm Bill approaches, this question has been asked a lot, and it should be since Black farmers have declined by more than 96 percent since 1920, with there being 926,000 Black-operated farms in that very year.

In order to understand why this has happened, the first step may be analyzing how exactly Black farmers finance their farm operations. This question is imperative when determining why there has been a drastic decline in Black farmers. To understand how Black farmers are funding their farm operations and the barriers to obtaining capital, the Policy Center set out to gather this information by bringing together 1890 Land-Grant Institutions in the nine states with the highest concentration of Black farmers to conduct in-depth research on these issues. 

Each state participating in this project was asked to survey at least 100 Black farmers. The survey found that the top method for funding their farms was personal cash followed by ownership. This confirmed that Black farmers are not accessing loans to build their farm business. Access to capital for black farmers is a serious issue and the results showed that effective access to capital for black farmers is very limited. Consequently, black farmers applied for few loans and obtained a very low share of their operational capital from external sources. 

There are many factors and complex interactions that add to this issue. Some levels of discrimination existed, as mentioned by some farmers in their response, but the fundamental causes of the issue go far beyond just discrimination. USDA has created new programming and initiatives but has not included actions to assist the Black farmer in catching up to farmers who have always received help, have a complete understanding, and thrive. 

Things, such as a simplification of the application process, reduction of the down payment/credit needed, and help with the application process and getting farm numbers could increase the number of farmers applying for and receiving funding are things that can create changes for Black farmers, but there are clear systemic changes that needs to take place as well. 

To access the full study, contact Dr. Kara Woods, research analyst at the Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Policy Research Center at Alcorn State University, at kawoods@alcorn.edu.