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Project Goal:The goal of the proposed project is to more fully identify and define the land tenure challenges and encumbrances that impede the ability of farmers to operate and manage viable farms and pass them to future generations and to develop strategies and policy recommendations to help them better navigate these challenges.Supporting Objectives:1) To define and assess the impact of land tenure arrangements on farm operations and how these may impede the viability of the farm operation, including access to essential USDA programs for farmers.2) To assess the legal needs and access to legal services for the farmers related to wills, estates, succession planning, leases, clouded titles, and also non-ownership encumbrances including energy leases, rights of way, easements, wetland designations, and alternative energy rights.3) To clearly define and classify the array of land tenure arrangements and related encumbrances that are found to impact farm operations in order to fill outreach, technical assistance and research gaps on the impact of insecure forms of land tenure and non- ownership encumbrances on the agricultural base of the community."While there has been much research attention directed toward inequality in government policy and programs, less interest has been directed toward other arenas of activity of concern for small, limited resource and minority farmers."\iiiOur farmer members have expressed a major concern in addressing the lack of tracking and training for historically underserved producers, especially in the areas of access to water, care of land, risk prevention and disaster mitigation.Our research completed in 2019 in a paper on the Ecological Costs of Discrimination details that:Another critical barrier to Black farmers trying to obtain USDA benefits is the issue of 'heirs' property', identified in the data obtained by OBHRPI and affirmed by RC members and the 100 Farmers participants. Heirs' property is land that has multiple owners (sometimes over a hundred) with undivided interests and no designated administrative authority (e.g., earlier owners passed away without wills). For many farmers, attorneys are expensive, and RC and OBHRPI have observed that attorneys often will not work with farmers to settle heirs' property issues because they have clients, such as banks, developers and other farmers, that are trying to obtain heirs' property for below market prices. Lacking access to attorneys...the current operators of the land often cannot prove that they have control of the land for the purposes of operating a farm because they do not have a deed, lease or other form of a signed agreement by all other interest holders. Without such documentation, they cannot secure a farm and tract number and register in the system that allows them to qualify for USDA programs and benefits. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund estimates that 40% of all Black owned farmland is held as heirs' property (Rural Coalition, ivYet these census data, especially the number of operators and numbers of farms, do not reveal how many farmers have land tenure arrangements that are insecure and not clearly defined as ownership or lease. More data could indicate how establishing secure longer-term access to land and control over farm operations would benefit our target farmer groups (in contradiction to short-term, unpredictable arrangements). Our numerous prior surveys were developed, administered, and analyzed by Rural Coalition with our research partners, and the information garnered was used to develop model programs and watershed policy recommendations. Building from these processes, members of our research team and staff have worked to analyze existing quantitative data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture.The proposed research utilizes this adaptable, community-engaged research framework to identify the needs of underserved farmers, who are also underrepresented in official data counts. To that end we propose to expand our prior research, including revising and re-administering a prior survey that originally included over 1,000 participant minority farmers and ranchers on financial recordkeeping and participation in USDA. Building new questions on current direct outreach engagements with producers in 36 counties across 8 states, we seek to understand how land tenure and other related issues impact opportunities to farm and pass land to the next generation of new, beginning farmers and to care for farmland, a resource for future resilient rural communities.

Picciano, L.
Rural Coalition
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