Agriculture Secretary Richard E. Lyng, meeting yesterday with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and representatives of several farm groups, agreed to procedures that will give them direct access to his office to point out problems in the administration of USDA programs.
Jackson said afterward that Lyng also agreed to visit economically troubled farmers in Missouri, where a Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) office at Chillicothe has been picketed for 46 days, and to visit a black farm in North Carolina to hear more about the dwindling black farm population.
Lyng told the group that his executive assistant, Floyd Gabler, will take on new duties as a liaison to handle complaints about bureaucratic delays in farm programs and FmHA loan applications.
Jackson, whose political Rainbow Coalition has become increasingly involved in grassroots protests of Reagan administration farm policies, said the new arrangement might help overcome an "attitude of hostility toward farmers in distress" among some USDA field employes.
Jackson and others also complained that the USDA was "doing less than its best to distribute its resources," which they said were inadequate to meet demands for spring planting loans from FmHA.
"These farmers are victims of a government-induced crisis," Jackson said. "There is nowhere for them to go. We must provide for them . . . . If the secretary comes to Missouri, it could create some hope. His presence there could help break the bottleneck . . . . "
Roger Allison of Columbia, Mo., representing the North American Farm Alliance, said that Missouri farmers intend to continue their protest at the office in Chillicothe until the administration agrees to their demands that the supervisor be replaced and more lenient lending policies adopted.
Jackson said that although the FmHA has insufficient funds to meet loan demands, more "administrative efficiency and concern can salvage some farmers." He and others also told Lyng that black farmers in the Southeast are additionally hampered in securing loans by discriminatory FmHA policy.
Jackson charged there was "clearly a problem of racial discrimination" in North Carolina. Of 344 recent FmHA loans, he said, 20 went to blacks, one to an Indian and the rest to whites. "The Farmers Home Administration for too long has reflected the worst of local politics," he said.
A U.S. Commission on Civil Rights study in 1982 concluded that discriminatory attitudes at FmHA had accelerated the decline of black farmers. The commission urged major changes in its lending policies, but little has been done, according to recent reports.