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Latinos in Agriculture

Organization Focus: Diversity and outreach

Years Since Founding: 4

Program Focus: Creating a network of students, industry, government and educators to improve Latino/Hispanic representation in agriculture

Latinos have long-reaching roots in American agriculture and have made numerous impacts on farm practices and policies. Today, they play an even greater role in the industry: according to the 2012 Ag Census, the number of Hispanic-operated farms increased 21 percent between 2007 and 2012, up to 67,000 operations.

Formed in 2010, Latinos in Agriculture works to create a network for the Latino community to connect the ideas, resources and people to all aspects of America's agricultural industry. The Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Conference, supported by the Farm Credit National Contributions Program, is working to facilitate these connections.

"We're trying to establish this network of resources across these agencies and organizations," says Edward W. Romero, Ph.D., co-founder and organizer of the Leaders Conference. "Business, education, and engineering have created these networks and are way ahead of us. We're just starting to build a formal network, but it seems to be working."

The annual conference attracts about 175 industry, government, and higher education leaders, as well as college level students. "In 2014 we offered over 90 scholarships to college students to attend the conference. Farm Credit played a major role in that effort because of their continued support," says Edward.

It is a golden opportunity to meet so many people from so many different universities, from different agencies, from different companies

With the unique mix of attendees and an interactive conference structure, impactful relationships are created that extend beyond the three-day event. "It is a golden opportunity to meet so many people from so many different universities, from different agencies, from different companies," says Jose Luis Perez, a Leaders Conference participant.

The conference enhances such interactions by hosting primarily general sessions rather than separate tracks. It is not uncommon to see upper level government officials discussing with undergraduates what they just heard, or mid-level professionals interacting with higher education leaders. In addition, Edward notes that each year he hears about job interviews that are scheduled and even job offers made during the conference.

In 2014, for the first time, the Leaders Conference invited several students whose major is not solely focused in an agricultural discipline – rather they are majoring in biology or another science, technology, engineering or math area. Having individuals in attendance who can contribute to the industry in broader ways exhibits this continued Latino outreach. These students learn a great deal about agriculture in the U.S. and how they may be able to contribute through the skills and knowledge learned through their course of study. Edward believes these connections will likely impact the career or graduate school choices some of these students make, steering them towards agriculture.