Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Great Farm Robbery: "I was going to raise beans."

By James Bovard

Two years ago, an editorial in The Washington Times demanded an investigation of the billions of dollars in payouts to blacks who asserted that they were wrongly denied subsidized farm loans. Congress conducted no investigation, and the Obama administration recently promised at least $1.3 billion to women and Hispanics who asserted that they, too, had been victims of U.S. Department of Agriculture discrimination. Before any new claimant classes race to court, it is time to recognize the profound flaws in the archetype for absolving USDA’s alleged sins.
When the Clinton administration settled the initial class-action lawsuit, named after Timothy Pigford, the original claimant in 1999, analysts expected only a few thousand legitimate claims. However, more than 90,000 blacks asserted that they were wrongly denied farm loans or other USDA benefits in the 1980s and 1990s.This was surprising because there were at most 33,000 black-operated farms nationwide in that period. But that number itself was wildly inflated by USDA methodology. Anyone who sells more than $1,000 in agricultural commodities — the equivalent of 150 bushels of wheat or one horse — is categorized by USDA a bona fide farmer.
The vast majority of those 30,000-plus black-operated farms were either hobby farms or part-time endeavors. Half of black-operated farms in the mid-1980s had gross sales of less than $2,500 per year and almost 90 percent had gross sales of less than $20,000, according to a 2001 report by the Land Tenure Center at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Small farms are far less efficient and productive than large-scale farms, which helps explain why average farmers (both white and black) with less than $20,000 in annual sales consistently lost money every year in the 1980s.Then there were the claimants who merely “attempted to farm.” David Frantz, one of the lead counsels for the Pigford claimants, explained in late 2010 how the settlement class vastly expanded. reported: “The case is not limited to those who were farming, Mr. Frantz added, but included those who were prevented from farming because they did not get USDA loans. ‘I personally worked with many, many young individuals who went through that,’ Mr. Frantz said. ‘A typical scenario would be that ‘I was born and raised on a farm, and then I went into the Army after high school. When I came back, I wanted to get back into farming, and I went to the Farm Service Agency to get a loan so I could rent some land. My uncle was going to rent me 250 acres, so I was going to raise beans. I went to get a loan, and they turned me down.’ That’s a very common scenario.’”
According to Mr. Frantz, “I was going to raise beans” is sufficient grounds to demand and receive $50,000 in restitution from fellow Americans.

Read the rest here.

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