Call In + Voice Out: Fair Access

The Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act, authored by Senators Doug Jones (AL) and Tim Scott (SC) and Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH) would authorize USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to accept certain alternate forms of documentation defining who controls a parcel of land. This would enable operators farming on land without a clear legal title due to heirs property issues to receive farm numbers from FSA and thereby qualify to participate in farm and conservation programs. FSA would also be authorized to loan funds to qualified intermediaries to re-lend to families to resolve heirs’ property issues and clear title to farm land.

The bill further authorizes the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service to collect data and comprehensively analyze trends in farmland ownership and operation, and transition of farms to new generations of owners and operators. The studies would improve our understanding 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.

Action: Please contact your two Senators immediately by calling 202-224-3121. 
Urge them to cosponsor and support the Jones-Scott Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act as an amendment to 2018 Farm Bill (known as the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018). A Farm Bill debate and votes on the Senate floor are expected to begin as soon as today Monday, June 25. With the support of more Senators this week, it is more likely the bill will be accepted as a Farm Bill amendment.

Why this is needed: Rural Coalition and its members working with people of color farmers throughout the country have found that this issue of heirs property affects producers we serve in different ways (Read our Press Release Here.) This Fair Access Act will remove critical stumbling blocks to families bring dormant land back into production and to help farmers, and especially African American and other farmers of color, preserve ownership of their land and transfer their wealth to the next generation. Transfer of land to new and emerging farmers will be easier, and more farmers and ranchers will gain access to USDA programs.

In order to participate in USDA programs, producers must demonstrate control of the land to secure a farm number. With that numbers comes access to federal farm, credit and conservation program benefits. Without one, producers currently operating on heirs property are unable to qualify for most USDA programs, including commodity programs, microloans, EQIP, or NAP or other risk management and disaster programs.

Some producers who utilize Commodity Programs authorized under Title I have been allowed to access these programs using a process of self-certification of the farmer’s authority to farm that land. Our constituents have informed us, however, that due to encumbrances related to heirs property, hundreds of producers unable to access the food and agriculture programs they need to achieve sustainability.

The issue of Heirs Property has generated much attention with regard to housing and eligibility for assistance from FEMA and other agencies following natural disasters. A Uniform Participation of Heirs Property model statute developed by the Uniform Law Commission, has now been adopted in 10 states, and is pending in several. Similar laws in other states protect the rights of heirs property interests.

However, the Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources and Conservation Service do not recognize these and other instruments approved at the state level to provide for a legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the interests in the property (or the heirs), including allowing one of the owners or operators to participate in critical USDA programs and services.

Bill Summary – The Jones-Scott and Fudge bills would expand access to critical federal farm programs and help more families resolve longstanding heirs property issues by:
1. Requiring USDA to provide a farm number and program eligibility to farm owners and operators farming on land that has an assigned administrative authority representing more than 50% of the interests in the property in states who have in force a Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Statute.
2. Requiring the Secretary to identify similar alternate forms of documentation in each state as evidence of control of the land, including self-certification, and require FSA and NRCS in each state to accept the same forms of documentation.
3. Providing authority for a pilot project in the Credit Title for FSA to make loans available through qualified intermediaries for revolving loan funds to work with heirs to allow owners to resolve heirs property ownership on farmland that has multiple owners.
4. Providing authority to the Secretary to collect data and perform analysis on trends in farmland ownership and operation, transitions of farms and ranchers to new generation of owners and operators, and also to help understand the impact of unresolved land tenure issue on the ability of producers to operate farms and pass them on to new generations of owners.

Passage of the Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act as part of the 2018 Farm Bill will also provide a critical incentive to more states to adopt the Uniform Partition Act Statute, and help more families develop succession plans to protect and pass on land to future generations.

120 groups have already announced their official support for the bills (see the list here). Follow their lead and urge your two Senators to cosponsor and support the Fair Access for Farmers and Ranchers Act by calling 202-224-3121.
Summary of Status of Uniform Partition of Heirs Property state laws. States that currently have an in-force law include Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, South Carolina and Texas. States with legislation pending include: District of Columbia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.