USDA Chief Tom Vilsack Forges Equity Commission on Discrimination

Tom Vilsack speaks on December 11, 2020, after being nominated to be Agriculture Secretary by US President-elect Joe Biden, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack revealed Wednesday he will respond to demands for racial equity in agriculture by initiating a commission on discrimination.

The equity commission will take the lead on addressing longstanding discrimination that has shut out black producers from federal assistance that kept many farmers in business over the years.

Vilsack admits in an interview with Politico that’s just the start.

“I think the key here is to understand the comprehensive nature of the work that needs to be done. It isn’t just one single program or one single mission area that needs to be examined. It’s all of USDA,” Vilsack said.

“Here’s the challenge: We’re not only dealing with the specific issues of discrimination, but we’re dealing with the cumulative effect of that discrimination over a period of time,” he added.

Advocates for small and medium-size farms and “farmers of color” worry the Biden administration’s big plans on the warming of the globe “could inadvertently worsen inequality by diverting more taxpayer dollars to the largest landowners in the U.S. — a group that is overwhelmingly white and has already received billions in direct payments in recent years,” according to Politico.

“There is no doubt that as we structure and design this program, if we are to have a carbon bank, it has to work for farmers of all sizes,” Vilsack said. “It has to work for farmers in all parts of the country. It can’t just be designed for a particular subset of American agriculture if it’s to be successful.”

Vilsack has also been working behind the scenes with lawmakers to help craft the $5 billion in debt relief and other assistance for black farmers in the coronavirus relief package H.R. 1319 (117) — provisions sponsored by Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA), the winner of the George Senate runoff against former Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

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