Ninous Isom, a farmer in Manatee County, tends to his irrigation system in April 2021. He worries a plan to inject polluted water from the Piney Point fertilizer plant into the aquifer could harm his crops. Credit: Craig Pittman
Following lawsuits in a few states including Florida that blocked federal relief funds for minority farmers and ranchers, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Monday stressed the importance of protecting and offering equal opportunities to minority farmers who provide food for families.
“Giving equal opportunity for our local farmers and our minority and socially disenfranchised farmers to rise up and be participants in this marketplace is so essential,” Fried said. “They’re not asking for a handout, they’re just asking for a hand up.”
She said 99 percent of the “pandemic relief” last year went to white farmers under the previous Trump administration.
Last week, a judge in a federal Florida court halted Black farmers and others from “socially disadvantaged” groups from receiving COVID-19 relief funds under the American Rescue Plan.
The $4 billion in federal dollars is aimed to address a history of systemic discrimination against Black and brown farmers in USDA loans, as previously reported by the Florida Phoenix.
Fried, the only statewide-elected Democrat, was joined by Elide Santos of Dragon Fruit Nature Farms, during a press conference Monday at Florida International University in Miami.
Santos explained how she struggled getting federal assistance for her farm during the pandemic. “It is important for the USDA to reach out to the Latino and Black community to present them with the programs that could benefit them,” Santos said.
The lawsuit in Florida involves North Florida farmer Scott Wynn, who argued that he was excluded from the federal relief assistance because he is white. Lawsuits have been filed in other states such as Wisconsin and Texas by conservative and libertarian nonprofits.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal program is intended for “socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers.”
At issue, according to the lawsuit, is specific language regarding the American Rescue Plan that defines a “socially disadvantaged group” as producers from “groups whose members have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities.”
Those groups include African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Immigrants, and others from minority populations.
“I will continue to stand behind, beside and support our local farmers who are socially disenfranchised and know that we are taking strides to move this law forward,“ Fried concluded.
“We are in this fight, we are ready and we will continue to fight as we move forward.”
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