Boyd, who founded the national organization for black farmers in 1995, is planting soybeans. He will also plant corn, hay, and wheat on the farm that has been in his family for four generations. He has 300 head of beef spread out over three counties: Mecklenburg, Lunenberg and Brunswick.
While he will discuss last yearÂs historic $1.15 billion settlement for black farmers at the upcoming meeting in Williamsburg, the agenda is lengthy. Black farmers have a lot to discuss these days.
ÂThree escalating issues continue to affect black farmers,Â said Boyd, who operates his farm with his father, John Boyd Sr., his brother, Adrian Boyd, and a cousin, Ernest Lambert. All four African American farmers work to coax crops from land that was purchased by his great-great grandfather, Alexander Boyd, a former slave who bought the land and passed it on.
ÂThe No. 1 problem is access to credit,Â Boyd continued. ÂTo farm, you need a farm-operating loan each year to plant on time. Farming is a time-sensitive occupation. If you plant too late your crop yields diminish every day that you delay planting.
ÂThe second problem black farmers face is gaining access to good seed,Â Boyd continued. ÂWeÂre almost forced to buy genetically modified seed because there is a patent on seeds. So you have to buy new seeds each year.
ÂThe third problem black farmers face is getting good competitive prices for their crops and finding a buying station that is nearby,Â Boyd said. ÂFor example we used to sell our grain in South Hill but now we sell in Petersburg.Â
At a time when Boyd and his relatives are putting down seeds and fertilizers, they are also eying expanding trade agreements between the United States and other nations. And theyÂre scrutinizing farm legislation as it winds its way through the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.
First, there is the recent Republican-sponsored bill that would cut $30 billion from farm subsidy payments over the next decade. About 60 percent of all farmers currently receive no subsidy, while 10 percent of the largest subsidy payments go to the largest and wealthiest farmers, according to the Environmental Working Group.
If the House Agriculture Committee accepts the reforms they would take effect at the beginning of the next farm bill. Boyd supports capping individual payments at $500,000.
But thatÂs just one of several issues. He pauses on his tractor to stare into the distance. He remembers the troubling chain-of-events that led him to form the NBFA, a national organization with 90,000 members in 42 states. Boyd started the group 16 years ago with five members.
ÂPeople are always telling me they didnÂt realize black farmers still existed,Â Boyd said. ÂEverybody in my family has been farmers. Almost every black person in this country is only one generation away from living on a farm. We had no choice but to become farmers after they freed slaves.Â
Like rich pasture land, the NBFA took several generations to grow. Abused by his county supervisor each Wednesday, which was the only day black farmers could schedule an appointment in Mecklenburg County, Boyd said he finally filed several discrimination complaints. The complaints ended the abuse and jump started the NBFA.