The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Vilsack to appoint socially-disadvantaged farmers to serve on county subsidy certification committees

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has decided to become the first Agriculture secretary to use the power granted to secretaries in 2002 to appoint socially-disadvantaged farmers to serve on county committees.

Congress gave the authority to secretaries in the 2002 farm bill, but no secretary has proposed using it until now, a USDA spokeman said. Vilsack announced Monday that the Farm Service Agency published an interim rule on the appointments in the Federal Register that is open for public comment for 60 days.

The Franklin Roosevelt administration established the county committees in the 1930s to certify farmers as eligible for farm subsidies, a system that continues today. The county committees are generally highly regarded as a form of self-government, but have traditionally been dominated by white male farmers. The civil rights suits brought by black, Native American, female and Hispanic farmers originated with problems in offices overseen by the county committees.

Secretarial appointments would add socially disadvantaged voting members to county jurisdictional areas where representation is lacking, according to a statistical review conducted by USDA, a department news release said.

The appointments will supplement the existing election process where currently there are 7,700 elected county committee members representing 2,244 county jurisdictions, the agency said. The interim rule allows the secretary of Agriculture to ensure fair representation on county committees by appointing a voting member in areas identified as under-representing the diversity of area producers.

Each year, USDA will conduct a fresh statistical analysis, and appointments with voting authority will continue to occur in areas identified under-representing the diversity of area producers.

“We are proud of the great diversity that makes up our rural communities,” said FSA Administrator Bruce Nelson, “and appointing voting members to committees that lack representation is an important step in helping to maintain a robust county committee system for all producers.”