Securing Land Tenure Rights for Heirs Property Owners

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $399,965.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2024
Grant Recipients: Land Loss Prevention Project; Tuskegee University; Rural Coalition
Region: Southern
State: North Carolina
Principal Investigator:
Savi Horne
Land Loss Prevention Project
Billy Lawton
Center Hill Farms
Lorette Picciano
Rural Coalition
Dr. Robert Zabawa
Tuskegee University, College of Agriculture, Environment and Nut


Not commodity specific


  • Farm Business Management: farm succession
  • Sustainable Communities: public policy, Heirs property

    Proposal abstract:

    Insecure farm and tenure, especially heirs property, is no longer a hidden problem. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) established 156 years ago, due to changes in the 2018 Farm Bill, is now required to provide access to its programs for heirs property producers, allowing them to protect the soil and water and continue to operate viable farms that feed their communities. This project will increase farmer and community awareness of the barriers presented by heirs property and provide access to trusted community resources through farmers, landowners associations and project partners on using these new tools to address these barriers. Project collaborators have consistently provided viable options to secure land tenure, advance land retention as an economic and social base and promote sustainable community economic development, undergirded through increased access to USDA programs and services.

    Using focus groups and surveys in farming communities, we will investigate how the new farm bill policies, coupled with the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act being adopted at the state level, are working to help farm families address the difficult issues of farm succession and tenure. The Lead Principal Investigator,the Land Loss Prevention Project, is a non-profit law firm with more than 37 years of work on resolving heirs property issues through deeding into family company or corporations for agricultural use and generational farm succession planning to advance business continuity and continued agricultural use of family farms that are rooted in their communities. The Co-Lead Collaborator Rural Coalition has engaged its member groups including African American and other minority farmers, farmworkers, and rural communities for over 40 years in an integrated program of public policy monitoring, technical assistance, capacity-building, participatory collaborative research, and education so that together we may secure the best possible federal policy outcomes and forge innovative, community-driven solutions with the grassroots communities.

    The current farm bill further mandates the USDA to gather, and report data related to land access and ownership related to heirs property. This reporting is to encompass “farmland ownership, tenure, transition, barriers to entry, profitability, and viability of beginning…socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.” This project allows the small farms and sustainable agriculture sector to understand and validate government-produced statistics by gathering data from community and farmer-led processes Land insecurity needs to be analyzed to determine its impacts on the social, economic, environmental, health and well-being of the community. Project partners have a demonstrable history of engagement in the policy arena at national, regional and local levels and deep roots in the project focus areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas. The partners possess the requisite social capital to leverage bases within communities, 1890 Land Grant Universities, government, economic development sector and community-based organizations to gather data, conduct training, produce educational materials on land tenure security and sustainability. Fractionated heir farmland and land tenure in the South is not well-understood in the sustainable agriculture community, this project aims to bridge the knowledge gap from the farmers perspective and the needs of sustainable and resilient communities.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Discover: The team will develop an in-depth understanding of the experience of farming communities and families in addressing farm succession issues, and how new farm bill policies related to heirs property and related state laws, are working to remove barriers to USDA program access and return dormant land to production.
    2. Build: Using findings, the team will engage communities to develop recommendations on improving heirs property policies and educational materials to better meet the needs of farmers and communities
    3. Educate: Materials and Recommendations will be refined with participating farmers and area extension agents.
    4. Evaluate: Materials refined are evaluated for final dissemination.
    5. Disseminate: Educational material and policy proposals will be made available to producers and extension agents nationwide and key policy makers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.