Black American farmers lost $326 billion in land in the 20th century – study

A combine harvester rolls over stalks of soft red winter wheat during harvest on a farm in Dixon, Illinois July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

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May 2 (Reuters) – Black farmers in the United States lost an estimated $326 billion in acreage during the 20th century, according to the first study to quantify the present value of that loss.

The loss of land contributes to the racial wealth gap in the United States and a problem that has plagued relations between the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and minority farmers.

“Wealth and land are a way in this country to create opportunity for your family,” said Dr. Dania Francis, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and lead author of the study published Sunday in the Journal of Papers and Proceedings of the American Economic Association.

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“When huge groups of African Americans have been denied this opportunity, it speaks to the intergenerational wealth gap that has opened up in part because of this type of land loss,” Francis added.

The loss of land was due to discriminatory USDA lending policies and forced sales of co-owned land called heir ownership, among other factors, according to the study.

The study calculated the compound value of the decline in acreage owned by African Americans between 1920 and 1997 in the 17 states where nearly all black-owned farms were documented, using census data from the United States. USDA agriculture.

“It’s not just theoretical, but it’s empirical,” said Dr. Darrick Hamilton, professor of economics at The New School and another of the study’s authors. “These are real losses that have happened.”

In 1910, black farmers owned more than 16 million acres of land, according to experts. In 2017, when the last agricultural census was taken, that figure was just 4.7 million acres, or about 0.5% of all farmland.

The $326 billion figure is a conservative estimate, the study authors said, in part because it does not take into account multiplier effects, as if black farmers could have used the lost land as collateral to make other investments.

A Biden administration effort to provide debt relief to farmers of color under the American Rescue Plan Act, designed as redress for past USDA discrimination, is currently stalled in court after white farmers argued that it was discriminatory. L1N2SY2JW

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Reporting by Leah Douglas Editing by Bill Berkrot

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