The 2018 Farm Bill is now law, and with it come assurances for farmers, ranchers and producers across the country.
One assurance has been a long time coming.
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the voice for the policy priorities of black members of Congress, touted one of its Farm Bill successes, now enacted into law: requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a report on the loans the Farm Credit System (FCS) extends to socially disadvantaged farmers, including black farmers.
No description here would do justice to the plight of black farmers and producers throughout America’s history. But suffice it to say, black farmers and producers need more support to achieve some level of equity with farmers and producers who did not, and do not, face the same struggles.
As a government-sponsored enterprise (GSE), the Farm Credit System (FCS) should have some role to play in providing socially disadvantaged farmers and producers with reliable access to credit. This provision of the 2018 Farm Bill – now law – is a step in the right direction. The GAO should be examining the loans Farm Credit extends to socially disadvantaged farmers to see (1) whether Farm Credit is extending enough loans, (2) the specifics of those loans, and (3) whether improvements can be made.
But this step in the right direction could have been a leap instead of a step. The Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill included a provision to require Farm Credit to lend to socially disadvantaged farmers, rather than simply requiring a report on existing loans. It’s unclear why that provision was not included in the final bill, but it’s easy to imagine who fought its inclusion outright.
Because of its status as a GSE and its implicit backing from America’s taxpayers, Farm Credit is in a unique position to lend to farmers, ranchers and producers that need extra support. Of course, Farm Credit already has such a mandate to support young, beginning and small farmers – and it failed to support them in 2017. A mandate to lend to socially disadvantaged farmers just might see a similar outcome. In either case, the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), the FCS’s regulator, needs to keep a close eye on Farm Credit’s lending to farmers that need extra support. And although helping socially disadvantaged farmers outright is not yet law, Congress has the power to make it so, and to keep Farm Credit on course to fulfill its mission to support America’s farmers, ranchers and producers.