An article in the WaPo today details how large agriculture subsidies are driven towards wealthy white farm owners, while smaller farms and farms owned by blacks are denied assistance. While the Republican Congress slashed “Rural Development” funds that would have gone to help struggling farm communities, subsidies to large wealthy farmers have gone untouched.

In Bolivar County, where Shelby is located, farmers received a total of $200 million in crop subsidies over the five-year period, while just $11 million in Rural Development grants from the Agriculture Department went to replace the abandoned factories, decaying houses and boarded-up downtowns in dozens of dirt-poor, majority-black Delta towns.


Farm subsidies are meant to tide growers over when prices fall or when disasters strike. The Rural Development grants, on the other hand, are supposed to help small, struggling communities such as Shelby. Yet in the Delta, farm subsidies are massive, while Rural Development money is relatively scanty. From 2001 to 2005, the Agriculture Department awarded $1.18 billion in subsidies but just $54.8 million in Rural Development grants for housing, new businesses, water systems and other projects, a Washington Post investigation found.

While a conservative might argue that subsidizing the larger farms will create jobs for local workers, the truth is that the farmers just buy mechanical help rather than hiring locals.

Farmland in the Mississippi Delta has been passed down from generation to generation and built up through acquisitions, with whites controlling most of the land. In Bolivar County, whites now own 421,000 acres, records show, while blacks own 22,000 acres. Because farm subsides are based on farm size and production, most of the payments go to the large operations.

Farm-state lawmakers have repeatedly argued that the farm subsidies will trickle down to the local economies, spurring growth. But as farms consolidate and become more mechanized, there are fewer jobs, especially for unskilled laborers.

For those who argue that hundreds of years of slavery are irrelevant to current American social structure, there is this.

“You’re in the Delta. Most of the real economy is controlled by large families. It has been that way for 200 to 300 years,” said Ben F. Burkett, a black small farmer who also works part time for the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives. “We’d like to break that cycle and create new businesses. But there’s not much money for that. You see what we get from Rural Development. It’s not much, is it?”

I wonder how those families previously acquired labor to work their farms?

No wait, I don’t.

Despite the fact that black farmers own 18% of farms, they receive only 5% of government subsidies.

A decade-old lawsuit by black farmers against the Agriculture Department alleged a pattern of discrimination. Settlements are still being sorted out and Morris said that he could possibly receive a cash award. The department has since created a program to help minority farmers, but the impact has been modest. The powerful county farm committees, which hire the county Farm Service Agency executive and help enforce federal farm policies, continue to be dominated by whites.

Either the government should distribute funds more fairly, or it shouldn’t at all. But the fact is that diversity is the greatest enemy of the American welfare state, since when it comes to people of different races, Americans haven’t figured out yet how to share, so our tax dollars go to those who least need them.

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