Heirs’ Property puts many Black families at risk of losing their farms

The LEAP Coalition, which includes John Deere, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) and National Black Growers Council, is helping Black farming families keep their lands. The creation of LEAP is a result of John Deere’s participation on a Business Roundtable (BRT) special committee on racial equity and justice. The group’s finance subcommittee, which Chairman and CEO John C. May is part of, focuses on providing access to capital in minority communities and other factors contributing to persistent income disparity.

Over a century ago, 16 million acres of U.S. land was owned by Black farmers, today, it’s dropped to only 4.7 million acres. There are numerous reasons for the decline in land including a discriminatory practice that impacted how Black farmers acquired and passed on their land––Heirs’ Property.

Heirs’ Property is land that belongs to multiple people with a common ancestor who didn’t leave a legal will. It has become the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black farmers. Due to the fractionalized ownership of these lands, Black farmers are unable to use their property as collateral to secure loans or credit to further develop their businesses. In addition, they are often excluded from government programs or other forms of emergency relief. It’s become a national issue.

John Deere’s Coalition will collectively address priority legislation, expand educational and advocacy opportunities, and ensure access to tools and technology all farmers need to successfully navigate advanced production systems.

For the Ely family and their Heirs’ Property in Barlow Bend, Alabama, it was a chance to continue to keep the farm for the next generations. However, unknown to the rest of the family, a part of their land had been sold after one of the 15 children of the original land owners passed away. They only became aware of it when presented with a lawsuit from a man who had bought the interest from the sold land. Legal resources were provided to the Ely Family with the help of organizations such as the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund. 

Additionally, John Deere continues to support the important work of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Minorities in Ag Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS). Recently, John Deere pledged $1 million to the NAACP to assist aspiring Black entrepreneurs and provided matching grants to other social justice organizations.

John Deere is committed to ensuring Black farmers have the resources they need to LEAP forward and sustain their farms for generation to come. See the full LEAP Coalition Press Release from September 15, 2020.