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Farmers and other agribusiness professionals well understand the virtue of variety. For example, crop rotation is a widely accepted practice that growers employ to enlarge yields, increase moisture and decrease erosion. They know from theory and experience that the same plant on the same field, season after season, has negative consequences.

Likewise, multiple types of forage for livestock — e.g., perennial grasses and legumes — fight soil compaction and boost protein content. Although ingrained as a positive when it comes to the soil, diversity in agriculture is not so well reflected among the people that compose this vital American economic sector.

Global Diversity in Agriculture

Globally, however, there is a mixed bag of ethnic, racial, gender, and other people groups involved in the production, trading, marketing, processing, and retailing of food and fiber. A 2017 census determined that there were 3,244,344 Caucasian U.S. farmers, a number dwarfing those in all other racial categories. African-American farmers, for instance, register just over 45,500. 

The same survey shows that females represent under half of the total sample. While women are a growing presence in agriculture, they are often designated by the culture as farm wives instead of independent operators. True, land and farms are most often passed down in families. Still, an unseen barrier keeps many racial minorities and women from choosing agriculture.

Inside the Farming Industry 

The lopsided numbers apply not only to farming but also to wholesalers, processors, and agricultural communicators. Bright spots are on the horizon, however. The National FFA organization reports a growing diversity within and among its many chapters. These students are the agricultural leaders of the future. In addition, 4-H reports show robust participation among Black and Hispanic young people. While positive change may be years in the coming, interest in agriculture among middle and high school students of myriad backgrounds is an encouraging development.

Looking Further

Not to be ignored is diversity on the retail end. Here, too, is progress to be found. Almost 50 percent of restaurant employees are minorities. Women in restaurants exceed that ratio. Yet management and executive jobs are still dominated by whites. Like other points on the foodservice continuum, the growing pool of non-whites available for management training will drive a more diverse leadership profile.