In early November, the USDA Minority Farmer Advisory Committee will meet for the second time to finalize recommendations on increasing minority participation in USDA programs and services.
The committee is authorized under the 2008 farm bill and will advise the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on "implementation of section 2501 of the (2008 farm bill); methods of maximizing the participation of minority farmers and ranchers in USDA programs; and civil rights activities within the USDA as such activities relate to participants in such programs."
The committee's first meeting took place last August in Memphis.
Under Vilsack's leadership, the USDA is addressing civil rights complaints that go back decades to resolve allegations of past discrimination and usher in "a new era of civil rights" for the Department. On October 28, 2011, the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia approved the historic Pigford II settlement with African American Farmers, and in October 2010, he announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers.
In February 2011, Vilsack announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers.
In May 2011, Secretary Vilsack released a Civil Rights Assessment report of USDA's field-based program delivery that was promised in an April 2009 memorandum to employees and details an aggressive plan to promote equal access and opportunity at the department. The report made department-wide recommendations that will help USDA improve service delivery to minority and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and also suggests agency-specific changes to enhance program delivery and outreach to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility. A significant number of the recommendations included in the report already have been or currently are being integrated into USDA operations. An internal working group chaired by Secretary Vilsack has been established to implement many of the recommendations within the framework of cultural transformation. While many recommendations can be implemented administratively, some of the recommendations will require policy or statutory changes, and others will need to be considered as part of the 2012 farm bill deliberations.