Food and Farm Bill Can Help Black Farmers Keep Their Land, Science Group Says

Published Jun 27, 2023

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Over the course of the 20th century, Black farm owners lost nearly 90% of their farmland and the number of Black farmers dropped precipitously, from one in seven U.S. farmers at the start of the century to one in 72 today. The next Food and Farm Bill can help keep Black farmers on their land by including provisions that help resolve ownership and title issues that put Black farmers at risk of losing their land, according to a new policy brief from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Issues around inherited land and lack of clear legal title can put Black farmers at an elevated risk of losing their land. According to one study, more than one-third of Black farmers have held property as heirs’ property, or land that has been passed down without a formal deed or title. Without a title, farmers may have difficulty accessing U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and funding that help farmers succeed, such as conservation programs and Farm Service Agency loans. Heirs’ property is also at risk of being bought by predatory developers who exploit shared ownership to force a sale.

“Loss of farms and farmland has been extreme and disproportionate for the Black community, at an estimated cost of $326 billion in generational wealth,” said Dr. Alice Reznickova, report author and interdisciplinary scientist in the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “We need more research to better understand how many Black farmers and landowners are impacted by heirs’ property. To keep Black farmers on their land, they need increased support and resources to resolve heirs’ property issues and a pathway to access USDA programs in the meantime.

“Congress can start by passing the Justice for Black Farmers Act and adding additional provisions to the Food and Farm Bill to ensure small farmers and farmers of color have a fair shot, including equal access to USDA programs, support and resources to resolve heirs’ property issues.”