Drought Hits Home for Black Farmers
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Even more than homeowners facing thirsty lawns and diners missing their ice water, farmers are especially hard-hit by the drought.
Willie Adams raises cattle and chickens on his farm in Greensboro, Georgia. He joins us now on the phone. And from member station WCVE in Richmond, we have John Boyd, a Baskerville, Virginia farmer and the founder of the National Black Farmers Association. Welcome to you both.
Mr. JOHN BOYD (Founder, National Black Farmers Association): Thank you for having us.
Mr. WILLIE ADAMS (Farm Owner, Greensboro, Georgia): Yes, thanks so much.
MARTIN: Mr. Adams, let's start with you. How is the drought affecting your farm?
Mr. ADAMS: Well, if it's affected my farm by me raising grass-fed cows and natural, organic chickens. My cow, I had to sell part of my animals because I didn't have a grass to feed them. And when you grow them grass fed, you know, that's the main source, you know. So it's really affecting us real hard there.
MARTIN: Mr. Boyd, what about you? You still farm, too, as well as running the association.
Mr. BOYD: Absolutely. And Michel, this is one of the worst droughts I've seen since I've been a farmer. And we started what we call picking corn. In our county, we generally get 110 bushels to the acre. We're somewhere in between 15 and 20 bushes a acre because of this drought. And it's going to be very, very hard for the farmers to take such a drastic hit like this. And we're going to need assistance from different states, as well as the federal government, you know, to come in to help us out here with this drought.
MARTIN: Mr. Adams, have you ever seen anything like this?
Mr. ADAMS: It's been about 15 or 20 years, but not as dry as this because we didn't have as many houses and different things at that time in the area. But, no, this is really the first time I've really seen this dry.
MARTIN: You know, you've just made a point that I haven't considered, because you raise grass-fed cattle and natural chickens, you just can't use feed. You can't just import food for them.
Mr. ADAMS: That's right.
MARTIN: So what are you going to do?
Mr. ADAMS: Well, basically, I'm trying to (unintelligible)them over with the natural grown poultry, the chickens. Well, I have three poultry houses, which the company I was growing for moved away and didn't leave me with a contract, so I'm trying to use my houses to grow natural chickens that, if we can find a market for them, because everything on my farms is natural.
MARTIN: Mr. Boyd, you have said that you're going to need some assistance. What kind of assistance is available? Do you have crop insurance, for example, or anything like that?
Mr. BOYD: We have crop insurance, but we certainly have asked the governor here in Virginia, and we've asked the Secretary of Agriculture who just came in place to declare the Southeast - especially down in places like Georgia and Mississippi - a natural disaster as far requesting drought assistance. We haven't heard anything back from our request from the Bush administration for assistance for the farmers. So when I say assistance, we're looking for drought payments that would help cut their losses, for example, on my corn, where I was getting 110 bushels to the acre, and I'm now getting 15, 20 bushels to the acre.
We're going to need some kind of assistance. And this is the time of year where farmers have to pay the yearly notes - Willie Adams knows all about the notes that come due at the farmer's home and the local banks that come due once a year, and it's going to be real tough for the farmers to make those annual payments.
MARTIN: Mr. Boyd, I know we've had this conversation before in other stories that, you know, I've reported on with you. And, you know, farming is not easy for anybody, but are there ways in which you feel that African-American farmers face especially difficult challenges at a time like this?
Mr. BOYD: Absolutely. We've had a tough time. Myself and Willie Adams, we've been in this fight a long time, and we've had a tough time getting assistance from the federal government. We are in the U.S. Farm Subsidy Program, black farmers participate at a tune of one-tenth to 1 percent. So we don't even equal a percent in the U.S. farm subsidy program that tolled at $120 billion over the past five years. So when you look at those numbers and see the trying time that we've had in participating in federal loans, where it takes 40 days to process a white loan application and nearly 380 days for a black farmer application. And for those loans that I talked about earlier, when you don't get them on time, then it causes you to plant late. And when you don't plant on time, you just don't have the yields.
So we've been struggling. We have a bill pending in Congress that did pass the House of Representatives that will allow 70,000 black farmer's cases to be head its merits. So I'm hopeful that President Bush will sign that language into law into the farm bill that would allow 70,000 black farmers to have their cases heard.
MARTIN: Why do you think that is, that the applications - the loan applications for African-American farmers take so much longer that the - is because their farms are smaller? Because the white farmers belong to bigger operations? Or what do you think?
Mr. BOYD: The further you go down South - places like where Willie lives and Mississippi - the farmers face discrimination. And the Department of Agriculture did a study back in 1997 and did an admission of guilt which caused that case to be settled in federal court, that said that they did discriminate against black farmers. And Mr. Garnett(ph), who is the lending officer in my county, tore my application up and threw it in the trash can, you know, while I was sitting there in front of him and said, I'm not going to process this application this year. We don't have any money available right now.
MARTIN: Wait. Wait. He literally tore it…
Mr. BOYD: (unintelligible)
MARTIN: …in front of you?
Mr. BOYD: Yes, while I was sitting there. And, you now, we had some words afterwards. I wasn't far along as I am in my religion right now. But back then, we had some words. And he said, hey, if you want to come back next year, that's up to you. We went to the county office only one day a week where we're allowed to see the county supervisor. And the black farmers in Mecklenburg County called it Black Wednesday, because we all knew each other. And we was afraid to challenge the system because USDA was the lender of last resorts. And we figured if we didn't get any help there, then - Willie can attest - nine chances out of 10, we just was not going to get lent any money.
MARTIN: Mr. Adams, do you have a story like that?
Mr. ADAMS: Yes. Just about the same type of story. I will go to the office and if you want to get a loan, the answer for you to get a loan, you would need $25,000 for the maintenance of your project. (unintelligible) they will only lend you stuff and then they would maybe 10 or $12,000. In other words, they would lend you just enough to get your neck in the noose, but not enough to make the project successful. Yeah, they would say you won't have any money. Just the things like that. And it was - there's a struggle. And that's why I'm at the point now where I'm just about to do it on a niche market, and that's the reason why - (unintelligible) co-op, we try to grow stuff naturally because you can't compete out there on the big market.
Mr. BOYD: But also, we had all the black farmers that I knew had supervised bank accounts. And when we had to buy fertilizer and seed and equipment and things like this, the few times, I wasn't lent operating money. I had to deal with whom Mr. Garnett said I had to deal with. And that was something that was, you know, very degrading, you know.
Mr. BOYD: To have a supervised bank account where my county supervisor had to sign the checks. And I had to go to the seed, fertilizer and equipment dealer that he said I had to go to buy certain things.
MARTIN: Mm-hmm. So Mr. Boyd, what are your plans? Mr. Adams said that he's going to try to shift from the cattle to poultry because, I guess, presumably, they need less food. What are you going to do if the drought continues?
Mr. BOYD: Well, I'm looking to do more fruits and vegetables and looking to put farmer's markets. I'm trying to partner with the black churches to where black farmers would be able to sell their goods locally and get away from the large-scale-type productions and begin to scale our operations down to a smaller scale to where we could make a sizeable living. And I think the way to do that is to begin diversifying and doing things like what Willie Adams is doing.
But also, I think niche stuff, like partnering with the black church and having those type of markets available for our people. And I'm looking for, you know, to get more young people into agri business and get them back on the farm. And I think if you're a black person in this country and you want to maintain your existence, we need to look at buying more land as a group of people and producing more food in this country.
MARTIN: Well, good luck with the rest of the growing season.
Mr. BOYD: Well, thank you.
MARTIN: You keep us posted on how things are going?
Mr. BOYD: Yes, we will.
MARTIN: All right. How about you, too, Mr. Adams? Will you keep us posted?
Mr. ADAMS: Yes, I will.
MARTIN: All right. John Boyd is a founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association. He joined us from Richmond, Virginia. Willie Adams also joined us. He raises organic cattle and chickens on his farm in Greensboro, Georgia, and he joined us by phone from Greensboro.
Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
Mr. BOYD: Thank you.
Mr. ADAMS: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: We like to mention that we attempted to contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a response to the comments by Mr. Adams and Mr. Boyd. We did not receive a response.
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