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The AGgregator

From the Field: National Black Growers Council

For generations, black farmers and ranchers have proven to be important contributors to the American agricultural dichotomy, as they’ve contributed to the daunting task of providing food to our nation and the world. With unwavering dedication and passion, these men and women faced hurdles and endured systematic barriers that thwarted their ability to access government funding and federal programs. Barriers so debilitating that for some it stifled their ability to grow and for others, these hardships forced them out of business altogether.

These troubling realities are quantified in the statistics which document the overall decline in the number of black producers in the farming and ranching industries during the past century. Although data show a 9 percent increase in the number of black agricultural producers from 2007 to 2012, with 2012 recording 44,629 or 2.1 percent of the agricultural producers in the United States being black; the sobering facts show that from 1920 to recent times, the ratio of black farmers to non-black farmers declined from one in seven in 1920, to nearly one in 50 today.

Challenges and barriers withstanding, black farmers and ranchers remain diligent, strong, and proud in their commitment to provide a much needed resource to a greatly underserved and sometimes forgotten population. Organizations including the National Black Growers Council, an industry alliance established to help “improve the efficiency, productivity, and sustainability” of black farmers, represent a collective voice for farmers and ranchers while providing a venue by which they can share information and resources, and an organized way to establish educational forums to ensure that the next generation of farmers and ranchers is being mentored and trained.

P. J. Haynie, Director and Secretary-Treasurer of the Council and a fifth generation grain farmer, said, “We need to change our mindset. Many of these challenges are in the past, and we need to look forward.” To that end, the Council is focused on networking with independent black farmers and ranchers to connect them with each other in order to establish a stronger consortium and eliminate the isolation black farmers often experience as they continue to operate in an industry dominated by white agricultural producers. Still, in order to move forward, today’s farmers must identify and address those challenges that remain prevalent and relevant.

One such challenge is the need to attract and nurture the next generation of black farmers and ranchers to ensure the continued existence and growth of blacks in agriculture. Another priority of the Council is to educate black youth on the opportunities available in the agricultural industry. This has proven especially challenging because of the negative stigma that associates farming with slavery; coupled with the fact that many black youth harbor disparaging perceptions about the industry after witnessing their parents and other farmers struggling to maintain, and in some cases losing, their businesses. Seeing and experiencing such hardships has left many black youth less than enthusiastic about the prospects of following in their parents’ footsteps by choosing agriculture as a career.

Financing has proven to be another challenge faced by black farmers and ranchers today. Leigh Allen, Executive Director of the National Black Growers Council points out a challenge that supersedes black farmers’ ability to obtain credit, and that is their ability to acquire accurate information about how to properly apply for credit.

At a recent meeting with Farm Credit representatives from across the country, the Council shared these challenges as well as the Council’s strategies for helping America’s black agricultural producers succeed. One key program is an annual series of Model Farms field days where black growers gather to learn first-hand about practices and technologies that improve efficiencies and increase yields. However, before programs like Model Farms can be effective the Council must locate the black agricultural producers it aims to help – those black farmers outside of the Council’s membership. While the current membership represents 11 southern states between Virginia and Texas, responsible for farming more than 100,000 acres of farmland, due to the aforementioned isolation of black farmers throughout the United States, finding those who would most benefit from the Council’s support is difficult.

In its new alliance, Farm Credit has committed to helping the National Black Growers Council and its constituents by lending its support to the Council’s efforts to excel in its mission of improving the efficiency, productivity, and sustainability of the black farming community.

If you are a black farmer or rancher who is not a member of the National Black Growers Council, visit their website to learn more about their resources and benefits, and become a member.

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of diversity, Rodney Patterson brings a wealth of knowledge to his position as Diversity Resource for the Farm Credit System. In his role, Mr. Patterson is responsible for driving diversity, inclusion and engagement throughout the Farm Credit System.

Lisa Summerour is a dynamic motivational speaker, author, consultant, coach, and facilitator. She graduates in May with a doctorate in ethical leadership from Olivet Nazarene University. Ms. Summerour's current projects include developing women's empowerment seminars and job search workshops.