Farmer Equity Act
Farmer Equity Act of 2017
The Farmer Equity Act, AB 1348, authored by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), adds a definition of “Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher” and “Socially Disadvantaged Group” to the California Food and Agriculture Code: defined as a group whose members have been subjected to racial, ethnic, or gender prejudice because of their identity as members of a group without regard to their individual qualities. These groups include people who are African American, American Indian, Alaskan native, Hispanic, Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander. AB 1348 directs the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to better provide resources, outreach, technical assistance, and decision-making power to these growers.
For years, farmers of color have been subject to discriminatory practices in agriculture: from being denied land ownership in the early 19th and 20th centuries, to receiving less in government loans compared to their white counterparts. These historic struggles led to the codification of Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the 1990 Farm Bill to provide improved outreach and assistance to underserved farmers and ranchers. While efforts at the federal level have largely focused on grants and outreach, the California bill will take effect across CDFA, including how it creates new rules, forms governance committees, and manages grant-making programs.
“While historic discrimination won’t be solved overnight, the Farmer Equity Act opens the door requiring that state officials identify and address the ways farmers of color, including black farmers, have largely been ignored,” said Dr. Gail Myers
California leads the nation in the diversity of its farmers and ranchers. Between 2007 and 2012, census data show that California experienced the largest increase of Asian-American farmers of any state, with over 3,500 producers. While the number of California farms overall decreased by 3.9% from 2007 to 2012, the number of Latina/o-operated farms simultaneously increased by 8%. Today, California ranks third in the nation in concentration of Latina/o farmers, with its 9,815 Latina/o farmers operating twelve percent of all California farms, while only 3% of farms nationwide are operated by Latinas/os.
Despite this significant growth, farmers of color tend to earn less money on average and receive 36% less in government funding than their white counterparts. Support programs critical to farm survival also exhibit limited reach to farmers of color. While 35% of non-Hispanic farmers acquire crop insurance, for example, only 10% of Hispanics are enrolled in USDA insurance programs, and just 1% in Monterey County. Insurance is critical for undercapitalized and beginning farmers who are most vulnerable to market and/or crop failures.
The new law will ensure farmers of color in our urban centers are not overlooked—another growing demographic of farmers crucial in providing food in places where fresh fruits and vegetables can be difficult to find. Also, the Farmer Equity Act directly responds to California’s climate-smart investments in agriculture. Farmers in underserved areas of the state suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change and local environmental pollution. By the creation of a definition of Socially Disadvantaged Farmer, this legislation will increase access to “climate smart” technical assistance among small and mid-size farms in the future.
After drafting the Farmer Equity Act and working with Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry to pass the bill, the California Farmer Justice Collaborative is remaining active in its implementation. CFJC has produced a report entitled “Growing Inclusion: Implementation of the Farmer Equity Act of 2017”, which outlines the group’s vision for increasing inclusion and equity at CDFA. CFJC continues to work with farmers of color to understand the bill’s promise and potential and advocate for its full implementation within CDFA.