The election of President-elect Joe Biden to head the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Tom Vilsack hosted a virtual meeting Tuesday with a litany of black farming organizations.
Vilsack met with the groups to discuss the important issues facing black farmers today. These issues include reliable broadband internet in rural areas, the importance of the Justice Act for black farmers, and the discrimination black farmers face when trying to access programs, technical and financial assistance from the USDA
The organizations that attended the virtual meeting included the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Kansas Black Farmers Association, Operation Spring Plant, Land Loss Prevention Project, Southwest Georgia Project, and several others.
According to the Guardian, there are only about 45,000 black farmers left today. In 1920 there were more than a million.
During the meeting, Vilsack reaffirmed its commitment to building and building strong partnerships with organizations that provide support and assistance to black farmers. Vilsack also wanted to ensure that black farming organizations had a seat at the table while he was on duty.
Biden's appointment to Vilsack has been criticized by environmentalists who believe he doesn't take climate change seriously. The Sierra Club, an environmental organization, said Vilsack's appointment was troubling environmentalists.
"We hope that Vilsack, if approved, will reverse many of the harmful policies put in place during the Trump administration," said Alexander Rony, a Sierra Club official. "But we also know that a return to the status quo wins." It is not enough to address climate change and racial justice sensibly. "
However, several farm groups and organizations have praised Vilsack's appointment. Aaron Lehman, president of the Iowa Farmers Union, told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that the group welcomed Vilsack's return.
"He knows exactly how hard the job is, and when he agrees to do it again, he shows a high level of commitment to the public service."
"We see it as a positive thing," Pat McGonegle, executive director of Iowa Pork Producers, told the courier. "Vilsack understands productive farming and we appreciate he's willing to come back because he's a seasoned guy."
Vilsack, a former Ohio governor, held that position for eight years under the Obama administration. During this time, Vilsack oversaw several improvements at the USDA, including resolving longstanding discrimination cases to provide settlements for black farmers. Vilsack also created the first advisory board for minority farmers.
If confirmed, Vilsack will take over the USDA at a time when Trump's trade war with China has made things worse for US farmers, especially smallholders.
Smallholder bankruptcies have increased, even with record levels of federal aid. According to the New York Times, dairy farmers are currently struggling with falling prices related to excess milk and the popularity of oat, almond, and plant-based alternatives.
Potato growers have also struggled as the coronavirus pandemic has closed restaurants, bars and lounges serving french fries, potato peels and other potato-based foods.
Some farmers have had to give away literally thousands of pounds of potatoes due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the bar and restaurant industry.