Heirs property rule
SAVANNAH, Ga. – A rule to implement the 2018 farm bill “heirs property” provision to help farmers who have inherited land but don’t have clear title or right to Agriculture Department and disaster programs is now at the White House Office of Management and Budget, a key Agriculture Department official said here this week.
The rule will probably be released later this year and will be subject to a 90-day comment period, said Latrice Hill, national director for outreach at the USDA Farm Service Agency, on Sunday at a National Farmers Union session on the heirs property issue.
Monica Rainge, director of land retention and advocacy at the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, said the problem arises when a farmer dies without a will or succession plan and his children inherit the land as tenants in common. The owners can use the land together as long as they are in agreement, but no one has clear ownership rights and the owners are “hindered” in access to Agriculture Department programs and face barriers raising capital, she said.
Rainge said the problem of heirs property is most prominent among African-Americans because they are less likely to have a will or a succession plan or the money to pay for legal services. Across the South, there are 1.6 million acres in heirs property “that could be lost or underutilized” Rainge said. But Hill noted that the problem of “land fractionation” is also an issue in Appalachia and on tribal lands.
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Hill said the 2018 farm bill included a program under which FSA will provide money to intermediary organizations to make loans to people to get their titles cleared. She said the farm bill also included a provision to allow the owners of the land in heirs property to be eligible for disaster payments.
Rainge and Hill both said that resolving heirs property issues are vital to helping beginning farmers gain access to land.
Cornelius Blanding, executive director of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, pointed out that farm families must deal with state governments regarding land ownership issues. He also noted that black farmers had started co-ops early in the 20th century because they could not get proper services or even buy gas from white-owned businesses.
Blanding urged the National Farmers Union delegates to pay attention to the issues of black farmers, whose numbers have fallen from one million in 1920 to only about 45,000 today.
“When minority communities go, other communities go,” Blanding said.
–The Hagstrom Report
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