Ag Policy Blog

Deere Announces Coalition to Address Land Challenges Facing Black Farmers

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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John Deere announced the coalition with the National Black Growers Council and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, called LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems). The coalition will focus on those topics, which including ensuring access to technology for farmers. (DTN file photo)

Just days after one group representing Black farmers called for a boycott of John Deere, the ag machinery giant announced a new coalition with the National Black Growers Council and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to focus on challenge facing Black farmers with an emphasis on dealing with heirs' property issues across the country.

John Deere announced the coalition, called LEAP -- Legislation, Education, Advocacy and Production Systems. The coalition will focus on those topics, which including ensuring access to technology for farmers.

"Property ownership is a driver of economic growth for individuals and families. However, too often the benefits of ownership for those who lack clear title cannot be truly realized," said Marc Howze, Group President, Lifecycle Solutions and Chief Administrative Officer for John Deere.

Last week, the National Black Farmers Association, a separate group, called for a boycott of John Deere productions because Deere had declined an invitation to display equipment at the NBFA annual meeting. Deere pushed back, stating it had supported NBFA over the past six years with sponsorship, equipment donation and participation in the group's 2019 conference. Deere also pointed out the company partnered with the National Black Growers Council and the group Minorities in Ag, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANNRS).

In addressing issues related to heirs' property, the new coalition will tackle a long-standing issue that has gained more attention in recent years. It's estimated about 60% of Black farmers operate on land that has been passed down to heirs as tenants in common. The landowners can use the land as long as they are in agreement, but there is no clear ownership. That hinders farmers from accessing USDA programs, as well as loans. It also makes it easier for heirs' land to be pushed into forced sales.

It's estimated in southern states alone there are as many as 1.6 million acres considered heirs' property.

"Land is a farmer's most valuable and productive asset, yet 60 percent of Black farmers operate on property that has been passed through their families for generations but for which they do not have secure title. Without secure title, Black farmers cannot leverage the full value of their land," said Dewayne Goldmon, executive director of the National Black Growers Council. "We are pleased to expand our relationship with John Deere, one of our Sustaining Members, on this partnership and other areas of focus for our constituents and communities."

The LEAP coalition also will work with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, the oldest cooperative organization of Black farmers in the country. The cooperative has been one of the leading organizations to seek state and federal policy changes dealing with heirs' property.

The coalition stated that some of the challenges facing Black farmers and communities in the South are also similar to issues facing White communities in Appalachia, as well as Hispanic communities in Texas and southwestern states, and Native Americans on tribal land.

"We are delighted to expand on our existing relationship with John Deere, the NBGC, and others to tackle an issue that is critical to our communities," said Harry Williams, president & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. "This provides an opportunity to leverage our deep roots, research, and advocacy on behalf of our land grant institutions, including law schools, to lend a voice toward addressing this systemic issue."

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