USDA assistance deadline for minority farmers approaches

Black farms represent less than 1% of total national sales according to the most recent Census.
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 10:48 PM EDT
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POULAN, Ga. (WALB) - The deadline for farmers to apply for USDA funding to offset past discrimination is quickly approaching.

“Funding is hard to get,” Ricky Dollison, a farmer in Poulan, Georgia, said. “It’s very, very hard to get. I’m a fourth-generation farmer. And one of the things that my father did not want was the land to be put up. So when I go to try to get loans, if they say they got to have the land for collateral, I respect that, and I usually just get up and leave.”

Dollison says another hardship many minority farmers face is getting a fair price for their product, as Black farms tend to be smaller, and their total sales make up less than 1% of total national sales, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture by the USDA.

“In my experience, capital,” Dollison said. “Raising capital. Getting good pricing for your product. I do OK, could do better.”

Dollison grows livestock and farms things like peas, peanuts and watermelon which cost money to upkeep. USDA funds can help with that. Farmers, ranchers and forest landowners who experienced discrimination by the USDA in their farm loan programs prior to Jan. 1, 2021, can apply for funding now.

“They can get extra assistance in assuring that they can have proper farm equipment or extra seeding and things of that nature,” Joshua Anthony, who is a board member of the Albany Community Development Council, said.

Pigs on Dollison's farm.
Pigs on Dollison's farm.(WALB)

In addition to the USDA funding, there are South Georgia organizations specifically dedicated to uplifting and supporting minority farmers.

“There’s the Black Farmers Fund that provides low-interest community grants to Black farmers,” Anthony said. “And there’s also the Cargill’s Black Farmer Equity Initiative that tries their best to address the racial inequality through the industry in itself and increase participation and productivity amongst Black and minority farmers.”

About 4% of all farmers in Georgia are Black. And many of them say negative stereotypes associated with cotton crops still remain.

Dollison has received backlash for growing things like cotton and watermelon, which have negative stigmas in the black community.

“My thing is, most of us wear some types of undergarments or t-shirts or socks or something like that,” he said. “Well, cotton is a multi-billion dollar business. Instead of knocking me, I feel like maybe unite with me and we figure out how we can be a blessing to each other. The clothing line is large. And if it’s not synthetic, it starts out there. And the same thing with watermelons. All of my neighbors grow watermelon. All of them. So that means people are eating watermelon.”

He says another bridge Black and minority farmers need to cross in order to improve is closing the generational gap.

“Things have changed,” Dollison said. “So what my father taught me, the basics is there. But I had to do some things differently because my father sent my brother and my sister to college on raising fetal pigs. He sold them in Ashburn, Georgia. There’s not fetal pig sale in Ashburn, Georgia now. So I had to shift and change and that’s what we have to teach our kids.”

He adds that Black people need to reclaim these industries.

“I say if we spend our dollars in these things, we outta see how we can challenge our dollars so that it can help more of us,” Dollison said.

If you’d like to apply for USDA funding, click here and here.