We have a diversity problem in agriculture.

by Jeff Walter
October 9, 2020
diversity in agriculture marketing

The marketer’s role in increasing diversity, expanding perspectives in farming

The most recent Ag Census from 2017 tells us that 95% of U.S. farmers are white. The same census tells us that ownership by black farmers is down 3% from the 2012 census. Which means we not only have a diversity problem, but it’s actually getting worse.

At an ag conference a few years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Jeneen Fields-Abrams speak about the importance of increasing diversity within agriculture. While her day job is working at Purdue University as a Plant Research Scientist, she finds a way to invest a significant portion of her time trying to build diversity within the agricultural industry.

She summed up perfectly why this issue is so important. As a plant researcher, Dr. Fields-Abrams understands the inherent risks a lack of diversity brings, and the importance of diversity in creating a new, better performing seed line. Diversity makes living things stronger and more likely to thrive, and from seed to animal genetics, we accept this principle within the agriculture industry. We understand the dangers of a monoculture approach to running our farming operations. And yet, we turn a blind eye to the lack of diversity within our own ranks.

But we shouldn’t, because diversity can unlock a brighter future for ag through people who look at the world from a different perspective, who ask questions and challenge assumptions. That is how industries grow faster and become more successful. When we make decisions without a diverse group of stakeholders, we’re the ones who miss out.

Globally, agriculture is full of diverse individuals passionately working to grow the food, fuel and fiber the world needs. We see different agronomic practices, emerging technologies and production philosophies from all over. And we are a diverse nation, filled with immigrants both new and old. So why doesn’t agriculture better reflect this range of humanity? It can, and it should.

So what does this all of this have to do with Marketing To Farmers? What roles do we, as agricultural marketers, play in helping to shape the demographics of our industry? We are uniquely positioned to help shift perceptions – to begin the process of changing mindsets with simple, everyday changes. Here three steps we can all take.

1. Put a different face on agriculture.

We have previously written about the importance of engaging farm women in ag marketing. It’s no accident that we have started to see more women represented in ag marketing, as women now make up 36 percent of the farmers in United States. From visuals that show women in print ads and TV spots, to long-format stories and video content featuring women talking about their farming operations. This allows people to see a different face of agriculture, and enables women within and outside of ag to see themselves reflected in a meaningful and valuable way.

We need to do the same for our Black, Hispanic, Asian and American Indian farmers. We need to show the world a more diverse face of agriculture. We need to show diverse youth that people who look like them are making a difference in an industry that shapes our lives, and we  need to show those who are currently in our industry that they are appreciated and valued. It’s a small, simple step we can take right now to help shift perceptions and perhaps even knock down some barriers along the way.

2. Find ways to attract a more diverse group into agriculture.

Support organizations that help promote career opportunities within agriculture to a more diverse group of people. Just as those who grew up around agriculture lend historical insights, those who were not raised in the industry bring valuable insights from their own experience. There are high schools in Chicago and Philadelphia that are entirely focused on preparing students for careers in agriculture. They are always in need of financial support, as well those willing to donate their time and expertise. There are also college organizations that help promote agricultural sciences and related fields to minorities.

3. Get our own houses in order.

How diverse are our own companies and marketing teams? Agriculture is not alone in lacking diversity, as the marketing industry struggles with the same issues.  At Rhea + Kaiser, we are taking steps to enhance our recruiting and hiring processes to encourage more diversity through purposeful training and education. We are working to formalize our philosophy around diversity and inclusion, including specific metrics and timelines that will ensure it is a priority through the entire organization.

These are small steps we can all take now to begin the slow and difficult task of shaping a brighter and more inclusive future for agriculture, and marketing. It’s not only the right thing to do for our industries and our companies, but it’s the smart thing for our brands and business.

Jeff Walter
About the Author – Jeff Walter

President/Chief Integration Officer. Jeff combines 20 years of client service experience with his deep knowledge and passion for agriculture, which stems from growing up on a corn and soybean farm in northern Illinois. He is a quick study of the brand, the customers and competitors, knows the right questions to ask, and with his oversight on planning and analytics, pushes the team to category-defining strategies and results-driven plans.

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