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Lawmaker proposes farm diversity commission

Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadelphia, confers with colleague Rep. Ed Pashinski, D-Luzerne, during a voting session in the House chamber.

A state lawmaker wants a commission to recommend ways to promote more diversity among Pennsylvania’s farmers.

State Rep. Danilo Burgos, D-Philadephia., introduced H.B. 1301 to establish the Pennsylvania Socially Diverse Farmers Commission to review current policies and produce a report making recommendations to promote and implement a Commonwealth diversity, equity and inclusion plan within the Department of Agriculture.

“Each and every Pennsylvanian has the ability to touch, feel and taste Pennsylvania’s bountiful fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy and other agricultural goods – but not every Pennsylvanian has the same opportunity to help grow and produce it or participate in Pennsylvania’s $132.5 billion agricultural industry,” Burgos said.

“It’s time to establish the Pennsylvania Socially Diverse Farmers Commission to determine what policies are needed to open Pa.’s ag industry to a more diverse generation of Pa. farmers to grow and produce the high-quality foods that feed our families and economy.”

According to the USDA’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, of the 90,461 producers in Pennsylvania, 89,843 were white, 759 were Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin, 108 were American Indian/Alaska Native, 103 were Asian and 80 were Black or African American. Burgos said Russell Redding, state agriculture secretary, supports the commission.

The commission’s report will make reviews and recommendations in several areas, including, but not limited to: education and career opportunities for socially disadvantaged individuals, farmers and groups; current issues facing socially disadvantaged farmers; and capital access for socially disadvantaged farmers.

“Pennsylvania and our nation are long overdue to identify and implement the reforms needed promote equal access for all to an industry employing and supporting nearly 593,000 people and injecting $32 billion in wages into our economy,” Burgos said. “I thank Secretary Redding for his support and am ready to work with my co-sponsors to introduce, promote and do everything we can to establish the Pennsylvania Socially Diverse Farmers Commission.”

A similar commission is included in the American Rescue Plan, included $5 billion allocated for Black farmers, $4 billion of which was designated for loan forgiveness. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Bellafonte, noted federal efforts in recent years to direct federal assistance to minority farmers, such as the USDA’s Farm Service Agency targeting direct loans and guarantees loans to eligible socially disadvantaged farmers to buy and operate family-sized farms and ranches. The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides resources for socially disadvantaged and historically underserved producers and targets 5% of its Environmental Quality Incentives Program for socially disadvantaged farmers. Over the last decade, NRCS has distributed 33% percent of EQIP funding to historically underserved producers and beginning farmers.

“While much work remains, we should look to this previous progress as a blueprint in continued discussions,” Thompson said in March before a hearing to review the state of Black farmers in the U.S. “We must work together as a farm team–farmers, ranchers, producers, legislators, stakeholders, and activists alike–to reduce barriers that are preventing Black and other socially disadvantaged farmers from participating fully in a robust farm economy. We must support a strong farm economy that lifts up all.”

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