How the U.S. Systematically Puts Black Farmers Out of Business

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As if farming wasn’t difficult enough, with the physical exhaustion, expensive equipment, and unreliable weather, racist lending policies continue to winnow away the number of black sugarcane growers in Louisiana. Only 2 percent of farmers in the U.S. are black. In Iberia Parish, Louisiana, the number of black farmers decreased by 44.7 percent between 2007 and 2012. For The GuardianDebbie Weingarten focuses on one of those families, the Provosts, and how racist lending policy and outright intimidation put them out of business. What redlining was to black home ownership, racist loaning practices are to black farmers. But in sugarcane it’s deeper than that, because American sugarcane farming began as a plantation system that both used enslaved black workers and worked to sustain the racist social hierarchy through beatings and lynching. You can see the effects in the Provosts’ fields, which now belong to a bank.

In 2008, June’s second season farming on his own, the sugarcane production cost was $615 per acre. But June [Provost] was only loaned $194 per acre. After weeding and fertilizing, he had little left to repair or purchase equipment. By fall, he could barely afford to pay his workers, let alone plant new cane for future production.

The Provosts argue that First Guaranty Bank and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approved years of unfeasible loans that were too small for the scale of June’s production and dispersed too late in the season – and that when he failed, they collected on his collateral.

Such lending discrimination, Angie argues, can be observed just by looking at the fields around south Louisiana. By summer, white farmers’ fields are well-drained, weed-free, laser-leveled, whereas black farmers’ fields are overrun with Johnson grass, a noxious weed – visual proof, says Angie, that black farmers are provided fewer resources than white farmers.

“You have to see it as a giant web, and every time you move in one way, it pulls you back in another,” says Hank Sanders, an attorney who is regularly involved in strategy with the Provosts’ legal team. “White supremacy is such a powerful thing … and it manifests itself in these various entities and institutions.”

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