Whether bullied by big industry, restrictive government policies or foreign interests buying up land, many feel the American farmer and the nation's food supply are under attack.

Tennesee farmer and lawyer Dustin Kittle has been fighting for farmers for decades, but his most recent legal battle started with Alabama Farm Credit and led him to sue President Joe Biden. Along the way, he uncovered alleged corruption, namely an apparent scheme to force smaller family farms out of business to benefit large industry producers while allowing China to buy up valuable farmland.

Kittle was recently interviewed about his findings by third-party presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who also has a long history of litigating environmental cases.

Kittle began by recapping how Alabama Farm Credit threatened to foreclose on his farm loans even though he had not missed a single payment. The U.S. Farm Credit Administration eventually found that AFC had many violations in Kittle's case, but only after Kittle was forced to sell his private residence to pay off the remainder of his loans.

Kittle said he's found many similar cases where farmers were being forced out of land despite being in good financial standing with their lender.

"You had farmers whose loans were being placed in distress like mine was. And my situation was retaliation because I was representing a group of farmer-borrowers and just happened to have a loan," Kittle said. "[W]e represent right now 200 farmers, and those farmers, some of the ones that have been forced to sign confidentiality agreements, even though they can speak to me as their lawyer, they're scared to death because they don't want to have to go back against Farm Credit. And they're scared to speak up and even tell their story."

He said the Farm Credit system has shifted its business model in recent years to "manipulate" and "pressure" farmers with little to no resources to fight back.

"They will attribute it to is they're trying to make the system sound. Well, the system either is going to survive, or it's going to fail," Kittle said. "Its mission was to save the family farm. We can't decide all of a sudden in 2009 we're going to change that mission to we're going to save agriculture as a whole. And when I say agriculture as a whole, now they're dolling out loans to JBS. They're doling out loans to Tyson. And this is farm credit. And we're not talking about $100,000 lines of credit. We're talking about billion-dollar loans to those companies."

Kittle placed AFC at the forefront of the problem by withholding significant funds from farmers.

"They were out front in some of the things that they were doing, and that is a very strong foothold in the commercial poultry businesses in the state of Alabama," he said. "… This is a tragedy that should be on the front page of every newspaper. There are over a thousand poultry borrowers at Alabama Farm Credit who have funds being held. And we think the number will end up being somewhere between $60 and 100 million dollars. But those funds are just gone. They have told the farmers that the funds have been taken out of those accounts and will be applied to the end of their loan. And really, what happened, we believe, was that the Farm Credit institution got close to failing. They had those dollars already spent, so to speak."

AFC has denied Kittle's allegations and any wrongdoing related to its lending practices. Still, Kittle said he hopes to give a voice to the affected farmers and that consumers will also come to their defense.

"[W]e need a national voice that is taking up for the family farms. We need to get back to growing quality food as opposed to quantities of food," he said. "And it's doable. We just need an entire reshape of the mindset to it all. And really just to go back to what the original mission of these programs was. And to do that, there's going to have to be a house cleaning at Farm Credit in the USDA."

Kittle's suit against Biden was to force him to appoint a full Farm Credit board. The board has three seats, two of which are held by previous appointees in holdover status. Biden has since nominated one appointee affiliated with USDA.

"We're not getting any closer to being on the right track there and separating those entities," Kittle said. "But our hope is that we can push things forward on that, get a full board in place and at least give the farmers an opportunity to have some kind of remedy when they are being wrongfully foreclosed on it. But that's what we're fighting for."

While the exact number is unclear, Kittle added that the foreign interest threat to family-owned farms has dramatically increased without an adequately functioning Farm Credit board.

"What we do know is it's an alarming enough number that the government themselves are even sounding the alarms," he said. "Farm Service has put out a report over the last couple of years sounding the alarm saying that foreign land holdings between 2017 and 2022 almost doubled."

He concluded, "Family farms is really the last bastion of American independence. And so my hope is that there are a lot of people out there that feel strongly about this and can step in and make a difference. It truly is an environmental cause as well."

To connect with the story's author or comment, email daniel.taylor@1819news.com or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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