The following story originally appeared in the Association of Extension Administrators (AEA) Today and is reprinted here with permission.
Since 2007, the U.S. Census of Agriculture has consistently documented a demographic shift in the agricultural sector. Although this shift reflects a more diverse farming community that collectively contributes to reducing food insecurity across the United States, the need to integrate and include non-white farmers and ranchers’ communities into the mainstream agriculture and USDA support programs has increased.
Latino farmers represent the largest minority farming community in the U.S. and have consistently grown in numbers since 2007. However, while Latino farmers and ranchers increased in number, their access to USDA support programs remains low, and their application rejection rate to programs is also high.
This article discusses a demographic shift in the agricultural industry and the challenges Latino farmers need to overcome to increase their integration and involvement with USDA support programs to farmers and ranchers.
U.S. Agriculture Becoming More Diverse
Agriculture in the United States is becoming more diverse as non-white farmers have significantly increased in numbers since 2007. According to the U.S. Census of Agriculture, non-white farmers increased by nearly 15% while white farmers decreased by 4.8% from 2007 to 2012. This demographic shift in the agricultural industry continued from 2012 to 2017 as non-white farmers increased by 7.65%, while white farmers decreased by 2.82% (USDA, 2017).
Among non-white farmers, another shift can be seen in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. While Latino, American Indian and Asian farmers showed consistent growth in numbers, the number of African American farmers dropped by 3.95% from 2012 to 2017.
This demographic shift in agriculture opens the opportunity for Extension providers and USDA representatives to reach out to new farming and ranching communities that have been historically underserved and underrepresented. As the largest minority group of farmers and ranchers in Missouri, Latino producers have encountered barriers to integrating into the agricultural industry. Data shows that while Latino farmers and ranchers increased in number, their access to USDA support programs remains low and their application rejection rate to programs is also high.
Geographic Location Can Present Challenges
Geographical location also can present a challenge to Latino farmers. In non-bordering states, like Missouri, the integration of new farmers into the mainstream agricultural system is a slow process.
However, the integration and inclusion into the U.S. agricultural industry for new Latino farmers might be a faster process in bordering states like California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. These four states concentrate 60.56% of Latino farmers in the United States. This could be influenced by a diversity of personnel in Extension programs and USDA representatives who also offer services in Spanish, which contributes to accelerating the integration of new and beginning farmers in the border states.
Conversely, farmers in non-bordering states like Missouri, lack ethnically diverse personnel in both Extension services and USDA agencies, which might significantly influence a slow integration process and feelings of exclusion from the mainstream farming and ranching community.
A recent study was conducted among Latino farmers in Missouri to identify challenges they face to integrate into mainstream agriculture and enhance their relationships with USDA support programs. Qualitative data from a series of focus groups and open-ended interviews with 42 Latino producers and 14 USDA representatives indicated that relationships among Latino producers and USDA representatives were challenged by their limited social and cultural interactions. Results indicate that Latino farmers were limited mainly by their cultural customs, fears of not qualifying to receive programs, language barriers, and lack of awareness of USDA support programs and agribusiness literacy and practices (Gonzalez E., 2018).
Extension, USDA Increasing Outreach to Latino Farmers
As the demographic diversity in the U.S. agricultural industry has increased, so has awareness among Extension service providers and the USDA. These agencies have been making efforts to reach out to these minority farming communities by offering technical assistance and financial farming support programs. Extension and USDA service providers in non-bordering states have not only been limited by a lack of understanding of non-white farming communities and needs, but also misunderstandings of their social, cultural and economic constraints.
Enhancing inclusion of underserved populations in the agricultural industry comes with not only a diverse farming community, but also in addressing social, cultural and economic constraints to help them integrate economically and socially.
At Lincoln University Cooperative Extension (LUCE), with the support of a grant from the USDA-NIFA Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program (BFRDP) and a grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NCR-SARE), we are helping to increase the integration and inclusion of Latino farmers not only through USDA programs, but also by introducing them into the mainstream agricultural industry. This effort supports USDA-NIFA’s priority of advancing racial justice, equity and opportunity.
We offer Latino farmers and ranchers in Missouri educational programs that allow them to increase community and agribusiness capacity to connect with high-paying markets and diverse consumers. We teach them an innovative educational approach to help them to create a Community Capacity Agribusiness Plan (CCAP) to operate their small and medium enterprises. LUCE support resources for Latino farmers are in both English and Spanish.
They include on-site workshops, field days, farm and ranch assessments, farm visits, technical support, market information reports, personalized support to fill agribusiness plans templates, USDA support programs and applications, and evaluating and helping them understand and follow sustainable farming and ranching practices.
Gonzalez E. (2018). Developing the Financial and Technical Capacities of Latino Farmers and Ranchers to Access USDA-FSA support programs. The case of Missouri. University of Missouri. Final Report. Federal Award No. FA-Mo-7-015 United States Department of Agriculture. (2017). Census of Agriculture. Retrieved from www.nass.usda.gov.
Top photo: A group of Latino farmers learning grass management practices at a Southwest Missouri Ranch, courtesy of Lincoln University Cooperative Extension.