Changing face of ag: Diversity of thought brings success

Farm Forum

The face of agriculture is changing. The changes are reflected in the Ag Census data released last week, in the rural communities we serve, and in the way the Department is looking toward the future. With a 12 percent increase in minority farm operators and a 21 percent increase in Hispanic farm operators since 2007, it’s clear that the agricultural landscape is changing. And it is vital that industry leadership evolves, too.

My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), oversees more than 20 Federal Research and Promotion (R&P) boards, whose members are appointed by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. These boards serve a variety of commodity industries, focusing on nutrition, research, marketing and consumer outreach. By helping develop new markets and strengthening existing ones, they create opportunities for farms and businesses across the country.

Because R&P boards represent all facets of the industry—from producers to processors, manufacturers to importers—it is important that the members reflect the diversity within the industries they represent and the consumers they serve. That’s why we held the first ever “Opportunities for Diversity” event last week, bringing together current board members and USDA leadership to discuss and share strategies for increasing diversity throughout the R&P boards.

We were thrilled to have USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden join us. She reminded us that having women and minority representation on our boards – as well as diversity in age, size, and production practices – helps industries adapt to changes in the marketplace and brings a diversity of thought that is invaluable for long-term planning.

To truly be successful in leading and advancing American agriculture, we need everyone at the table – people and organizations of different backgrounds, perspectives and opinions. USDA and AMS will continue working to bridge gaps and bring people together. We are committed to making sure that a diverse set of people and voices will help shape the future of American agriculture.