Volume 14, Number6 December 6, 2011
Big Business Courts Black Farmers
By Dr. Ridgely A. Mu’min Muhammad
According to Josephine Bennett of Georgia Public Broadcasting in an article entitled “Young Farmer Numbers Declining” she states, “Between 2002 and 2007 farmers age 25 and younger fell nearly 40-percent” in Georgia. Young people who want to farm are complaining that “Your fertilizer and seed and equipment are just astronomical for what your return is.” Bankers are reluctant to lend them money and the cost of land is too high.
In the past young farmers could rely on the USDA loan programs or their local banks to finance the purchase of their parents’ farm as they retired from farming. This would give the elderly couple money for their retirement while passing the farm on seamlessly to their children without having inheritance taxes taken out of their estate if they waited until their death. However, such loan money has dried up and many young farm children leave their childhood farm for college and never return.
And for those who decide to make a go at farming, the labor availability to do the hard field work has been severely shrunken by the attack on “illegal aliens”. The Southeast Farm Press reports that studies and surveys confirm that Georgia farmers are loosing their labor force because of immigration legislation. Since the implementation of Georgia House Bill 87 in July of 2011 the Georgia Agribusiness Council (GAC) reported that 46 percent of the 130 employers from 61 counties were experiencing a labor shortage. Similar immigration laws were passed this year in Alabama and Arizona with the same negative effect on the availability of farm labor especially during the peek harvesting period for fruits and vegetables. Farmers found it difficult to replace the immigrant workers with local unemployed labor because of the “physical demands of the job.”
It is most interesting to note that it was under the Republican Administration of Ronald Reagan that launched the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations in 1986 that lowered global tariffs and created the World Trade Organization. Two years later his administration won approval of the US-Canada Free Trade Agreement. Under his Immigration Reform and Control Act, 2.8 million undocumented workers were legalized and more immigrants legally entered the United States than under any previous president since Teddy Roosevelt. Political analysts argue that the purpose of Reagan’s free trade and increased immigration strategy was to break the power of the unions which was one of his campaign promises. This cheap foreign labor was also designed to compete with Black labor to break the rise of Blacks into the middle-class.
It is also most interesting that it was Reagan in 1986 that eliminated the Civil Rights Division of the USDA which allowed thousands of unanswered complaints of Black farmers against local USDA employees discriminating against them in program payments and loan programs. So while Reagan was making it easier for big white farmers to get cheap labor to compete with the Black farmers, he was also turning his back on Black farmers as their land was being taken from them by these same white farmers. So now the proverbial “chickens have come home to roost” and the crops are rotting in the fields because of the Republican’s reverse stand on immigration and the young white farmers are now refusing to take up their parents’ careers.
On December 3rd my wife and I attended a seminar at Tuskegee University called “Successful Marketing Opportunities for Historically Disadvantaged Farmers”. We have attended many “marketing” seminars before where USDA and college professors talked about preparing to enter the commercial and global markets, but this is the first time that actual buyers have come and taken the lead. It was the buyers who led many of the break-out sessions and pleaded with Black farmers to make a commitment this year to produce a variety of vegetables for their markets. Buyers included Walmart, Whole Foods, CH Robinson Worldwide, Inc. and Sodexo. For years I have been a part of a Southern Georgia vegetable coop where we were trying to get into Walmart, Harvey’s, Winn-Dixie, Kroger and other grocery chains with no success. Now the big ones were courting us, why? Oh, they need us now because young white kids are not going into farming and the big white farmers don’t have the labor to grow and pick fruits and vegetables. It is also interesting that Walmart admitted that they started courting Black farmers in Alabama in February of this year. Hum, what happened in February? Oh, Minister Farrakhan’s Saviours’ Day Address where he stressed that it was time for us to separate, get farm land and do for self.
On top of this the crops that these companies kept emphasizing for us to grow were field peas and collard greens. This was a clue that they wanted to expand their Black customer base by offering traditional slave – I mean soul food items in their stores in the South.
We are advocating for Black farmers to come out of hiding and take advantage of these opportunities. Of course Black farmers, like anyone going into any type of business relationship, should ask all the right questions. Prenuptial agreements may apply.(smile)
We encourage more young Blacks to look at farming or other agribusiness careers, because the tide is changing. However, we in the Ministry of Agriculture are still pushing to establish our own line of cooperatively owned grocery stores in the Black communities, because as fast as the big boys can court you, they can dump you when they get a cheaper supplier. We also must remember history as described in The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews, Volume 2. A relationship where the purchaser of agricultural products also reaches out to help the small farmer by lending him money to purchase the inputs for his operation, could turn into a predatory sharecropping relationship where the big boys get their shelves and pockets filled while the little man goes further in debt. Plus we want to teach our people “How to Eat to Live” and supply them with the best of foods and not the old slave plantation varieties. Now of course field peas and collard greens without pork may be better for them than the artificial chemicals in the junk foods, processed foods and fast foods.