U.S. farmers receive nearly $800 mln in loan relief from agriculture agency

A tractor plants in Holtville, California, U.S., September 20, 2022. REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci/File Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct 18 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers in economic distress have received nearly $800 million in loan relief from the Department of Agriculture (USDA)using funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Jewel Bronaugh announced on Tuesday.

The new law allocates $3.1 billion for USDA to make loan adjustments or payments for financially distressed farmers.

USDA has paid off arrears and paid the next upcoming loan payment for roughly 11,000 farmers who were 60 days or more behind on their direct and guaranteed loans as of Sept. 30. The agency also cleared debt held by about 2,100 farmers who had been foreclosed on but still owed money.

"The first order of business was to keep people on the land," Vilsack said on a call with reporters.

USDA will administer another $500 million to aid farmers with more complex financial situations, including where farmers are facing bankruptcy or foreclosure, the agency said.

"All small farmers need this opportunity to reevaluate their financial situation and restructure their debts," Rudy Arredondo, president of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers, said in a statement. "They need the adjustments now available to survive and carry on their farming operations."

The Inflation Reduction Act also included $2.2 billion for USDA to distribute to farmers who have experienced discrimination in the agency's farm lending practices. The agency is currently collecting public comments on who should get those funds.

An earlier debt relief program in the American Rescue Plan would have allocated debt relief to farmers of color. That program was stalled after lawsuits from white farmers, who claimed it was racially discriminatory, and was repealed by the new law.

Reporting by Leah Douglas Editing by Bill Berkrot

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Washington-based award-winning journalist covering agriculture and energy including competition, regulation, federal agencies, corporate consolidation, environment and climate, racial discrimination and labour, previously at the Food and Environment Reporting Network.