How Black Farmers Have Lost $326 Billion Worth of Land

New Documentary Spotlights Black Farmer Challenges and Heirs’ Property


For generations, Black landowners acquired millions of acres of farmland. But today approximately 90% of that land is no longer theirs — going from roughly 19 million acres to about 3 million in less than a century. That land loss equates to about $326 billion of lost value.

What happened?

A movie poster for the Gaining Ground documentary showing a black farmer's hand releasing dirt back to the ground.

A new documentary, Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land, focuses on the legacy of Black farming in America and the devastating impact of heirs’ property – property passed to family members by inheritance, usually without a will or proper estate planning. Without a clear title, Black farmers are unable to qualify for government assistance, equipment financing, or agricultural programs designed to optimize their land.

“Right now, heirs’ property is something that impacts Black farmers disproportionately,” said Marc Howze, senior advisor for the office of the chairman, John Deere. “They can’t leverage the land like other landowners can. In fact, they can’t even sell it for what it’s worth because it doesn’t have clear title."

Unlocking Value

Having clear title not only unlocks the land’s value but opportunities for the property owners. Just ask Michael Robinson whose family owns the 82-year-old Ely Farm in Barlow Bend, Alabama.

“Garlic an acre can generate $40,000 in revenue,” Robinson said. “And so even if we’re not farming it ourselves, we have an opportunity to do land leasing to people who are interested in farming. We want to take advantage of the monetization opportunities on the land going forward.”

More on “Gaining Ground”

"The message of this documentary is clear,” said Marc. “We need to do more to help Black farmers and landowners unlock the tremendous value in the land they already own to help us feed, clothe and shelter a growing population while pursuing opportunities to build wealth and provide a legacy for future generations.”

Gaining Ground: The Fight for Black Land, produced by Al Roker Entertainment, directed by Eternal Polk, and sponsored by John Deere, examines the causes, effects, and what is being done to retain the land.

The first public showing of the documentary will be at the American Black Film Festival in Miami, June 15, 2023, with screenings at additional film festivals across the country this summer.