Coalition forms to improve livelihoods of Black farmers

Just days after National Black Farmers Association, 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.

The National Black Growers Council (NBGC), and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) announced they are establishing a coalition focused on the work needed to improve the livelihoods of Black farmers with a particular emphasis on the preservation of heirs’ property in rural communities throughout the United States.

“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.

The new coalition, entitled LEAP (Legislation, Education, Advocacy, and Production Systems), 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.

“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 Dr. 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.”

While Black communities in the South have been particularly affected, similar situations exist with White communities in Appalachia, Native Americans living on tribal lands, and Hispanic communities in Texas and in parts of southwestern United States. Each of these constituencies will benefit from this work.

“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, 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.”

“Farmers need land to plant and harvest, they need access to tools, technologies, and services that will help their operations grow and thrive,” said John C. May, Deere’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. “These investments provide the means to fulfill these requirements and, in many cases, to carry on vital legacies.”

Racial Equality Work

John Deere representatives say the company has a long history of supporting racial equality work, most recently reflected by May’s participation in a special committee on racial equity and social justice of the Business Roundtable. The group’s finance subcommittee focuses on helping underserved communities with affordable housing and ensuring equal pay in the workplace, in addition to gaining access to capital. “John Deere is uniquely positioned to support the Business Roundtable’s work in promoting public policy solutions and corporate initiatives, particularly those that relate to helping underserved farmers gain access to capital,” May said.

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

“Through our expanded partnership with the NBGC and TMCF, we will seek out other partners and leverage our resources to invest in programs and partnerships that encourage and foster a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment in the agricultural industry,” May said.

Additional Partners

John Deere and the coalition additionally intends to work closely with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, the oldest cooperatively owned organization of Black farmers in the country, to help guide these efforts and leverage additional expertise and resources around their Regional Heirs’ Property & Mediation Center. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives has been leading grassroots solutions on heirs’ property, land retention and cooperative wealth building in African American communities in the rural south for over 53 years. The LEAP coalition is actively meeting with other potential partners.

National Black Farmers Association Boycott

The National Black Farmers Association 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).