President-elect Joe Biden’s pick for the head of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Tom Vilsack, hosted a virtual meeting Tuesday with a litany of Black farmer organizations.
Vilsack met with the groups to discuss the significant issues facing Black farmers today. Those issues include reliable broadband internet in rural areas, the importance of the Justice for Black Farmers Act, and the discrimination Black farmers face when trying to access programs, technical and financial assistance from the USDA
The organizations that attended the virtual meeting included the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Kansas Black Farmers Association, Operation Spring Plant, Land Loss Prevention Project, the Southwest Georgia Project and several others.
According to the Guardian, there are only about 45,000 Black farmers today. In 1920, there were more than one million.
During the meeting, Vilsack affirmed his commitment to forging and establishing strong partnerships with organizations that provide assistance and support to Black farmers. Vilsack also wanted to ensure that Black farming organizations have a seat at the table while he is serving.
Biden’s appointment of Vilsack was met with criticism from environmentalists who believe he won’t take climate change seriously. The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, said the appointment of Vilsack worries environmentalists.
“We’re hopeful that Vilsack, if confirmed, will reverse many of the harmful policies put in place during the Trump administration,” Alexander Rony, a Sierra Club employee said.. “But we also know that a return to the status quo won’t be enough to meaningfully tackle climate change and racial justice.”
However, multiple farm groups and organizations have praised Vilsack’s appointment. Iowa Farmers Union President Aaron Lehman told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that the group welcomes Vilsack’s return.
“He knows exactly how hard the job is and by agreeing to do it again he shows a high level of dedication to public service.”
“We see it as a positive thing,” Pat McGonegle, the chief executive of Iowa Pork Producers told the Courier. “Vilsack understands production agriculture and we appreciate he’s willing to come back to do it because he’s an experienced guy.”
Vilsack, a former Ohio Governor, held the position for eight years under the Obama Administration. During that time, Vilsack oversaw several improvements in the USDA including resolving longstanding discrimination cases to provide settlements for Black farmers. Vilsack also created the first Minority Farmers Advisory Committee.
If confirmed, Vilsack will take over the USDA at a time when Trump’s trade war with China has made things worse for U.S. farmers, especially small farmers.
Bankruptcies have increased for small farmers, even with record levels of federal assistance. According to The New York Times reported, dairy farmers are currently struggling due to declining prices related to a surplus of milk and the popularity of oat, almond and plant-based alternatives.
Potato farmers have also been struggling as the coronavirus pandemic has closed restaurants, bars and lounges that served french fries, potato skins and other potato-based foods.
Some farmers have had to literally give away thousands of pounds of potatoes due to the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the bar and restaurant industry.