Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org, Savonala Horne, North Carolina Association of Black Farmers Land Loss Prevention Project, email@example.com, or John Zippert, Alabama Association of Cooperatives, firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 22, 2018
Senator Doug Jones and Senator Tim Scott introduced S.3117, the “Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act,” in the US Senate to allow producers farming on heirs’ property to secure access to USDA programs. Rep. Marcia Fudge will introduce a companion bill soon in the US House of Representatives
Thousands of African American and other landowners have passed on without leaving a will, creating “Heirs’ Property.” Their descendants, each with a fraction of the undivided interest in the land, all lack a clear title to use or improve the land. According to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, “it is estimated that over 60% of all black owned land is heirs’ property.”
“One of the key issues for heirs’ property owners is the lack of access to many USDA programs. These program resources could help heirs’ property owners develop their land in a way that provides some economic independence and creates inter-generational wealth,” said Monica Armster Rainge, Director of Land Retention and Advocacy at the Federation.
The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act would require the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide farm numbers to farmers with certain documentation, including in concert with Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Laws in some states. The bill also authorizes FSA to make loans qualified intermediaries to relend to families seeking to resolve heirs’ property issues. The bill further provides for studies of the impact at the state and national level of unresolved land tenure issues on the ability of producers to operate farms and pass them on to new generations.
Uniform Laws Commission President Anita Ramasastry said “The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act,” will allow heirs’ property owners to access federally backed loans to clear their title and put their land into productive use – a win for all concerned. The Uniform Law Commission thanks Senator Scott, Senator Jones, Representative Fudge, and the Rural Coalition for recognizing the benefits of the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) to owners of heirs’ property, and for drafting the Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act to work in concert with state laws based on the UPHPA. ”
“In the last 20 years, problems with heirs’ property have been the largest single way that people in Alabama have lost land. The Fair Access Act is important because it enables people in states that have the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property laws to access USDA programs more directly with less red tape. This bill will make a real difference to help younger people who are among heirs’ to participate as farmers in the future. The bill provides an avenue to work out the difficult sharing of resources issues with other heirs’. Farm families would no longer would need to have every single heirs’ agree in order access USDA resources like NRCS and other farm bill programs,” said RC Chairperson John Zippert, also of the Alabama State Association of Cooperatives.
“Thousands of acres of black owned land have been lost when outsiders locate a single heir to buy their share of a parcel of land, forcing a partition sale with each heir receiving a portion of the proceeds, but those farming cannot afford to retain the land, ” noted Willard Tillman, Executive Director of Oklahoma Black Historical Research Project. “Through our work in Oklahoma, and from participants in our 100 Farmers Meeting last year, we know passage of S. 3117 making these important changes is critical to the survival of the African-American family farm.”
“This bill is a game-changer,” said Rural Coalition Board member Rudy Arredondo who is President of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association. “It is a very important piece of legislation that will increase opportunities for farmers who can’t now participate in USDA programs because they cannot show they have control of the farm. The bill provides more avenues for them to demonstrate eligibility and to receive the USDA benefits they really need to keep their farm viable.”
“We are very grateful to Senator (Tim) Scott for working with us to improve the quality of life in rural South Carolina,” said RC Vice Chairperson, Ms. Georgia Good, Executive Director of the Rural Advancement Fund of the National Sharecroppers Fund. “The Fair Access Act, which we hope will become part the 2018 Farm Bill will build on our state own heirs’ property law to help families of multiple generations hold on to their farms by making them eligible for the benefits of the programs of the USDA that all farmers need to thrive. His support for our small farmers is instrumental to keeping agriculture in South Carolina sustainable as an important part of our state’s economy, and is a fitting tribute to our State Senator, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, for whom our SC heirs’ property law is named.”
“The Rural Coalition with the 120 groups who have endorsed the bill thank Senator Jones, Senator Scott and Rep. Marcia Fudge for their leadership and dedication on this critical bill,” said Rural Coalition Executive Director Lorette Picciano. “With key input of the Uniform Laws Commission and the Senate and House Agriculture Committees and our RC member groups including the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and Land Loss Prevention Project, the sponsors have crafted effective language that will help farm families across the nation, and especially in the south, navigate a complex web of state and federal laws to bring thousands of acres of dormant land back into production. Their local communities will benefit from restoring agriculture as an economic engine, and future generations of farmers will now be able to carry on sustainable agricultural production. “
“This legislation offers farmers producing on heirs’ property, who decide to bring titling action the opportunity to secure USDA services while their partition suit is being considered by the court—- this potentially is a major economic leap forward for these farmers who heretofore have been denied access to USDA programs,” said Savonala Horne, Esq., Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of Black Farmers Land Loss Prevention Project. “We urge the delegation from NC to support the Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act, and more states to adopt Uniform Partition Laws at the state level.”
The Rural Coalition has worked since 1978 to assure its 50 diverse member organizations from all regions, ethnic and racial groups, women and men, and youth and elders, have the opportunity to work in solidarity on the issues that affect them all. The foundation of this work is strong local, regional and national organizations that work to assure the representation and involvement of every sector of this diverse fabric of rural peoples.
Federation of Southern Coops Leads Research and Advocacy on Heirs Property