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Farmers' Tractors, Trucks, and Horses to Block Paris Streets

Farmers' Tractors, Trucks, and Horses to Block Paris Streets

If you're planning to leave or arrive in Paris on Thursday, Nov. 21, you might want to reconsider your travel plans, as infuriated French farmers are planning a blockade of the main streets of the capital.

Led by France’s main agricultural union, the FNSEA, the farmers announced on Monday, Nov. 18, that they plan to block all major routes in and out of the city. The reason? A protest against the rising taxes and regulations affecting farmers, including a planned increase of VAT (value-added tax) from 7 to 20 percent in some industries.

"We’re absolutely sick of it — regulations, checks, taxes, the ecotax, the hike in VAT, it’s all piling up," French farmer Pierre Bot told Europe 1 radio, The Local reports. Bot told Europe 1 that the farmers will bring tractors, horses, trucks, and agriculture supplies with them into the city center of Paris, blocking all the major streets. "This was the only solution we could find to make ourselves heard," said Bot.

The protest in Paris is part of a continuing trend of mass disruption and protests around the country. In the mainly agricultural Brittany region of France, demonstrations by people in the agriculture and road transport industry have been taking place for the past few weeks. Blocking major motorways and destroying speed radars and metal toll gates, the riots were a protest against the proposed ecotax (a tax on commercial vehicles carrying cargo more than 3.5 tonnes). The protests led to French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault’s decision to suspend the ecotax until a "discussion" could be held with the protesters.

But the farmers and road workers are not backing down, demanding a full suspension of the planned new tax, as they fear it would cripple the agricultural section. On Saturday Nov. 16 around 2,000 trucks caused traffic disruption in several French cities including Paris, Strasbourg, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Marseille, Lyon and Lille. In Dijon, 2,000 protestors brought horses and ponies to protest against the planned tax hike on the horse-section of agriculture.

Thursday’s planned blockade in Paris is the next move by the frustrated farmers, who are ready to stand up against the Socialist-led government.

The French newspaper Midi Libre even went as far as saying that France was a country "on the brink of a social explosion," The Local reports.

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There were nearly a million black farmers in 1920. Why have they disappeared?

John Boyd Jr’s grandfather Thomas, the son of a slave, slept with the deed to his farm under his mattress. He worried constantly that his land would be taken from him.

Twenty miles away and three generations later, Boyd lives on his own 210-acre farm, in a big white colonial house with rows of soybeans that go almost up to the front door, like other people have grass. One hundred cattle, a cluster of guinea hogs, three goats and a small herding dog named Fatso, whom Boyd calls his best friend, live there.

He feels more secure on his plot of land than Thomas did. But Boyd is an aberration.

The number of black farmers in America peaked in 1920, when there were 949,889. Today, of the country’s 3.4 million total farmers, only 1.3%, or 45,508, are black, according to new figures from the US Department of Agriculture released this month. They own a mere 0.52% of America’s farmland. By comparison, 95% of US farmers are white.

The black farmers who have managed to hold on to their farms eke out a living today. They make less than $40,000 annually, compared with over $190,000 by white farmers, which is probably because their average acreage is about one-quarter that of white farmers.

As a fourth-generation farmer, Boyd has witnessed other black farmers do the same thing he’s done: claw at the dirt in an attempt to hold on to it. And Boyd has devoted himself to helping other black farmers, always remembering the words he heard his grandfather Thomas mumble over and over: “The land don’t know color. The land never mistreated me, people do.”

Cattle graze near the pond on John Boyd Jr’s farm just after sunrise in Baskerville, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Today he’s come to understand two things: how the long fight he put up is just a drop in a rusted-out bucket, and exactly why there are so few black farmers left.

In Baskerville, Virginia, huge sunrises turn ponds into fiery gulfs. Strangers in cars wave as they pass. Food is fried and smothered. Things move slowly. This is also Trump country, with support displayed on bumper stickers and hand-painted roadside signs. “Dixieland”, as Boyd calls it, has palpable racial tension.

He is a big man with deep-set eyes usually in the shadow of a cowboy hat brim. His voice could rumble floorboards. Boyd, 53, seems most content bouncing in the seat of his tractor, smoke tufts marking his trail. He’ll harvest the soybeans he’s busy planting today in the fall, once they’re about knee-high.

He needs 45 bushels from each acre to make a profit. To avoid being docked – getting priced down for moisture or debris in the bushels – he will ask his wife, Kara Brewer Boyd, to enlist her white stepfather to sell the beans for him. When the other man takes Boyd’s beans, he’s not docked but complimented.

“I lose money if I sell them myself,” he says. “In 2019, that shouldn’t be happening. I shouldn’t be losing money because I’m black.”

John Boyd Jr takes his new Kubota cab tractor for a spin to see how well it prepares his land for planting soybeans. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Boyd’s had time to get used to this mistreatment. His struggle for equal footing started as soon as he bought his first farm for $51,000 at age 18 in 1984. He went to the Farmers Home Administration, a lending branch of the USDA, about 90 miles from Baskerville to apply for operating loans. Year after year, his applications were denied or delayed.

“Looked at your application and we ain’t gonna be able to help you this year,” he says the loan officer would tell him. Once, Boyd says, a white farmer interrupted their meeting, exchanged quick pleasantries with the loan officer, and walked out, having not even applied, with a check for $157,000. “And I’m begging for $5,000,” Boyd recalls, shaking his head.

In subsequent visits, the loan officer told Boyd he better learn to talk to him like other black folks did, took naps during meetings, threw Boyd’s applications straight into the trash and spat his chewing tobacco on Boyd’s shirt, claiming to have missed his spittoon.

The officer only took meetings with the nine black farmers in the county on Wednesdays. “He would leave the door open and speak loudly and boastfully so that we could hear just how bad he was talking to each one of us,” Boyd says.

Boyd filed six complaints against the officer for discriminatory treatment and eventually the USDA Civil Rights Office of Virginia investigated the officer, who admitted to the treatment Boyd noted in his complaints. Boyd then filed and won the first-ever discrimination lawsuit against the USDA.

The successful investigation on Boyd’s behalf prompted other black farmers to come forward with their stories, and in 1995 Boyd founded the National Black Farmers Association after meeting with many black farmers and hearing similar USDA experiences.

John Boyd Jr, at his 210-acre farm in Baskerville, Virginia. Boyd is a fourth-generation farmer, still fighting for black farmers’ rights and equal treatment. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

“All these farmers were coming out of the woodwork saying, ‘You think what happened to you is bad? You should hear my story!’” he says. “I was just trying to save my farm. But then I saw this was a huge national issue.”

In 1997, Boyd and 400 other black farmers sued the USDA in the landmark lawsuit Pigford v Glickman, which alleged that from 1981 to 1997, USDA officials ignored complaints brought to them by black farmers and that they were denied loans and other support because of rampant discrimination. In 1999, the government settled the case for $1bn, and more than 16,000 black farmers received $50,000 each.

But Boyd didn’t know his work was just beginning.

After that settlement made news, more black farmers came forward saying they didn’t know about the lawsuit in time to apply for the money. This time, Boyd wasn’t a plaintiff but an advocate on behalf of more than 80,000 late claimants. In 2000, he began making trips to Washington to wait in hallways for politicians whose faces he’d studied in congressional dictionaries, hoping to find a sponsor to push to reopen the case. “That was a lonely battle out there on Capitol Hill. That was a bunch of lonely meetings,” he says.

John Boyd Jr greets one of his four horses on his farm in Baskerville, Virginia, on 22 April 2019. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

He drove his old Mercedes the 200 miles to Washington, sometimes two or three times a week. When that approach seemed too subtle, the trip by mule and wagon took 17 days. By sputtering tractor, it took five. Sometimes he slept outside Capitol Hill in the wagon. Sometimes his cousin Ernest kept him company on the trip. Other times, farmers and their wives came with signs bearing slogans like, “Black farmers have waited long enough.”

Meanwhile, he went to funerals of older black farmers who died hoping for compensation. His own crops and relationships suffered, most notably with his children.

“There were a lot of down times where I would go home and [Congress] would have recess and I would see family members. ‘Are you still working on that? Man, you need to give that up. You ain’t never going to win that,’” Boyd recalls them telling him. “There were many times where I said, I don’t know if I want to do this any more.”

Finally, after eight years, Boyd got then-Senator Barack Obama to be the lead sponsor of the measure to reopen the case, and Congress set aside $100m to assess the late claims. In December 2010, as president, Obama signed a bill authorizing $1.25bn in compensation to the late claimants, settling the lawsuit known as Pigford II.

The bill and a photo of Boyd shaking hands with Obama hang framed near the fireplace in his brick-floored living room. The pen Nancy Pelosi used to sign it is around the house somewhere, too. For Boyd, that moment, the ink absorbing into the paper, was the peak, the reward.

Kara Brewer Boyd works in the living room of their home in Baskerville, Virginia. ‘Some days I don’t leave this chair,’ said Boyd, the event and program coordinator for the National Black Farmer’s Association founded by John. Photograph: Greg Kahn/GRAIN

Last November, Kara Boyd fell asleep in the recliner in the living room with her laptop open the night before the NBFA conference. She was in the throes of a near-all-nighter, getting last-minute details set.

Into the evening, she’d been on the phone with the printer making sure the welcome letter from Shreveport’s mayor, boasting that the conference would draw more than 700 members from 42 states, was in the conference booklet. The Boyds see this free annual gathering as a chance to forge a support network for black farmers, and outline the USDA resources available to them. Their intentions and those of attendees haven’t always aligned.

Inside the lobby of a hotel in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, Boyd wore his favorite hat – the rigid black size 7.5 Stetson – and a pressed black suit. He was holding a cup of coffee, as usual, and shaking hands. But he was distracted and looking around, seemingly to gauge who’d shown up. The audience of mostly men sat at half-full or empty linen-covered banquet tables. Some had put on suits with their cowboy boots, some of the wives were dressed for church.

Throughout the two-day conference, Kara and USDA and bank representatives, who by design were mostly black, led discussions on how to apply for various loans, how to obtain a farm serial number and get wills in order.

John Boyd Jr’s home is decorated with stories and photos of his trips to Washington DC to meet with lawmakers and presidents in his fight for black farmers’ rights. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Two older women came in an hour late, after driving from Alabama 10 hours overnight through a storm. They slowly sat down, whispering to other attendees, “Has he gone over the lawsuits yet?”

People have shown up to every conference believing they can still fill out an application for the $50,000 from the Pigford II case, but the deadline was six years ago. Some farmers mistake the postcards announcing the conference for calls for applications, “because they’re older and there’s a lot of illiteracy”, Kara says, matter-of-factly.

The NBFA grant recipient Michael Coleman, 25, runs 14 head of cattle in Mississippi and majors in animal science at Alcorn State University, a historically black school. He presented a PowerPoint on cattle husbandry.

“These white cattle farmers are so much ahead of us it’s like we’re playing catch-up. They already know how to get the grant money, they already have old money,” Coleman says. “I mean, my dad was a sharecropper who worked 40 years in a factory 12 hours a day. Growing up, my father didn’t know about these programs.”

Nearly half of all black-owned farms are cattle operations, but with so few black farmers overall, the crowds at livestock markets are mostly white. “I haven’t been called out my name,” he says, using slang for a racial slur, “but I’m not too sure how they treat or price the animals once they figure out you’re a black farmer,” Coleman says.

His family’s three-acre plot of land is split among relatives – a common state of affairs across black farmers, who often lacked access to legal resources and passed along their property without a will or clear title. Unclear ownership can lead to major problems, including not being able to receive a farm serial number from the USDA, which is needed to apply for any federal loan and other financial assistance programs. According to the Census Bureau, 80% of land owned by black people has been lost since 1910 due to this issue.

John Boyd Jr loads feed into his cart at a local store in South Hill, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

A breakthrough came when the 2018 farm bill was signed into law a few days before Christmas, making it possible for farmers to show other forms of documentation besides a will to get a farm serial number.

On the last day of the Shreveport conference, Coleman, in a nice gray suit, received a loud applause for his presentation. Then Kara announced it was time for lawsuit updates, and passed the microphone to Boyd.

Speaking more slowly than he had the whole conference, he intoned, “I wanna do this because I’m frustrated. Every meeting I walk into, people are asking me, ‘When can I get my check?’ And it’s not truthful.”

There is a website set up on the order of Judge Friedman, who presided over the first Pigford case, which states, in bolded text, that the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association has been telling farmers they can still apply for the $50,000 if they mail in $100. It’s not just inaccurate, it’s also a heartbreaking scam, according to the judge.

As Boyd spoke, Kara pulled up the site on screen and asked everyone to show it to someone else, so they would know definitively that the case is closed.

“We have people out here taking advantage of elderly black people,” Boyd raises his voice. “Why would you send someone $100? Do not do that!”

John Boyd Jr, and his wife, Kara, at their 210-acre farm in Baskerville, Virginia. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Kara rattled the number for Judge Friedman’s clerk off the top of her head in case anyone had lingering questions. It is just a recorded message stating the case is settled and done.

“I’m merely giving you the facts. Am I being clear today?” Boyd asked. “Mmmhmm,” the farmers answer collectively. He repeated twice: “Nothing is pending in court. The case is closed and settled.”

Back home in Baskerville, Kara reflected on the conference. “It went well. There was no drama. There was no confrontation. No one left upset,” she says. “They came this year with the understanding that the case has been settled.”

She will continue to answer the calls she gets every day about the money. That evening, it is a man from Alabama. Through a tangle of words he finally gets across to her that he’s heard about the $50,000. “For black people working on farms … I thought they’d reopened it and everything? … Ah, it’s already closed out? … Oh, OK.”

“And don’t pay anyone $100 for an application because the settlement is over,” Kara replies. “I can give you the number to the claims administrator so you can hear it from them as well.”

“Oh, I believe you, ma’am,” he assures her, and hangs up.

John Boyd Jr pets his dog, Fatso, who he’s had since he was a pudgy puppy. He calls Fatso his best friend. Photograph: Greg Kahn/The Guardian

Boyd has been asking since 2017 for a meeting with Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, to no avail.

“I’d like to ask him why does it take so long to receive benefits as a black farmer? I know white farmers in my community who went through the same program [for a soybean subsidy] and had their money a long time ago. I’m still waiting.”

The new USDA census data shows a small spike in the number of black farmers, from 44,609 in 2012 to 45,508 in the 2019 report, but Boyd is unimpressed.

“They’re not getting any money. that doesn’t fix anything,” he says. “Farmers need operating money every year. You need credit every year. We need access to credit. We’re clearly not getting it,” he recites like a mantra.

History of Pulling

The National Tractor Pullers Association was established in 1969 by representatives from eight states (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania). These representatives met to establish uniform rules and give the sport structure. From these meetings, the NTPA was started. The year 2019 marks 50 years in the business as the premier sanctioning body of truck and tractor pulling.

The NTPA sets the standard in the pulling industry for safety and competition rules. Respected by most domestic and foreign pulling associations, the NTPA Rulebook is followed across the world for bettering themselves to what has already been experienced by the NTPA.

World Pulling International, Inc. has managed the National Tractor Pullers Association for more than 30 years. WPI is a stockholder's company that not only handles the business affairs of the NTPA, but also includes a marketing department and a publications division.

A staff of 15 dedicated professionals work in the Columbus, Ohio headquarters or from a satellite office. The other ingredient in making an event successful includes hundreds of workers and trained volunteers essential in producing an NTPA sanctioned event.

Even though both boards have unique aspects to their function to the business of professional truck and tractor pulling, they work together. Lives have been saved over the years, thanks to the tireless efforts of many persons who have served on the NTPA and WPI boards, bettering the sport as a whole. 1999 saw the SFI Roll Cage become NTPA law, and at least one life was saved as a result of a much needed, yet highly criticized mandate. Today, other pulling organizations and promoters are adapting to this standard. Such is the life of a leader.

Watch the video: Το.. πυραυλοκίνητο τρακτέρ!!! (January 2022).