“We would like for the judge to hear directly from our member farmers how much the delayed implementation of Section 1005 is impacting them. I don’t think that’s something that is realized in a real way. This will cause farm and land loss for many of the farmers as well as the declarants involved in our motion to intervene,” said Briar Blakley, a spokesperson for the Federation.
It’s a rare move for the advocacy group. If its motion is granted, the Federation of Southern Cooperatives would become an equal party to the suit, making them co-defendants in the case. This means they would be able to participate in discovery, securing evidence and verbal or written statements from witnesses to present in court.
“The decisions that [USDA] made not to appeal were strategic,” said Dania Davy, director of land retention and advocacy at the Federation. “Our situation, being an association of cooperatives and having a membership that’s predominantly Black farmers, gives us the opportunity to have a lot more access to a lot more evidence through our members’ experiences than [USDA] would be privy to, necessarily. We thought that our evidence would strengthen their ability to defend.”
The six farmers named in the motion are only a handful of the group’s many members who are eligible for loan forgiveness under Section 1005, some who carry substantial debt and have built their future farm plans-making arrangements for equipment, seeds, livestock, and fertilizer-in anticipation of impending debt relief.
“We would like for the judge to hear directly from our member farmers how much the delayed implementation of Section 1005 is impacting them.”
Batten, a member of the Federation but not one of the six declarants, has been unable to farm at his usual scale for the past two years due to outstanding debt with a USDA-guaranteed lender. Those arrears pushed him to the brink of foreclosure, forcing him to file bankruptcy to prevent bank seizure of 201 acres of his land. While he would typically farm up to 800 acres a year of peanuts, cotton, corn, wheat, and soybeans on a combination of owned and rented land, this year he is farming just 37 acres of soybeans. He rents those acres from a local farmer, while renting out his own land to others so he can pay down his debt.
Batten said that because his direct loan funds from FSA, which were needed at the start of planting season in January, typically arrived late-in April, May, or sometimes June-he was forced to seek guaranteed loan funding at a higher interest rate from an outside lender. In his case, it was the Bank of Dawson, a small local lender in Dawson, Georgia, about 25 miles from his farm.
“There were many times where the banker would be very pessimistic. … A particular banker I was working with told me several times that I’d never be able to buy land,” said Batten.
“Once I purchased the land, after that I never got a [guaranteed] loan in January, February, or March. In April, May or June,” he said. This, again, delayed his ability to plant his crops on time and jeopardized his ability to run a successful farm operation.
My loans were always after that
“There were many times where the banker would be very pessimistic. … A particular banker I was working with told me several times that I’d never be able to buy land.”
Eventually, Batten fell behind on his loan payments to the Bank of Dawson, and sought financial help from his father, who attempted to pay off his outstanding balance
Batten said the bank agent refused the payment but gave no explanation, saying only that the company no longer wanted to do business with him. The bank then accelerated his 25-year term loan, demanding full payment or forfeiture of his land.