Minnesota is moving forward with a program to address the prevalence of white farmers.
The “Emerging Farmers’ Working Group” was formed following a 2020 report from the legislature that found that farming is a majority white occupation in Minnesota.
According to the legislative report, systemic bias caused the disparity in the industry.
Minnesota’s economy centers on agriculture. The fifth-largest agricultural producer in the United States, the state’s 68,500 farms span more than 25 million acres. There are more than 430,000 agricultural jobs in the state.
However, the co-authors of the report, Assistant Commissioner Patrice Bailey and Strategy and Innovation Specialist Ariel Kagan, wanted the state to address the lack of diversity in the industry.
Bailey and Kagan contend that the “history of land ownership in the state” and the regulations that govern them — including the Homestead Act (1862), Bonanza Farms (1875) — have resulted in minority people being underrepresented because they did not have equal opportunity.
“Implicit and structural biases exist at all levels and at all institutions,” the report claims. “Taking an anti-racist approach to planning and program development is key for ensuring that existing programs are not implicitly favoring one group over another.”
Bailey also suggests removing the photos of previous governors, who were all white men, from a display at the Agricultural department’s St. Paul headquarters.
The Minnesota Legislature approved $150,000 in the 2021 session for the creation of “an emerging farmer office.”
The “Emerging Farmers” program is overseen by Minnesota’s Department of Agriculture. The advisory group is comprised of 19 members, who each serve a two-year term. Thus far, the department has received 41 applications.
The mission of the “MDA and Minnesota Legislature on ways to advance the success and sustainability of farmers who traditionally face barriers to the resources necessary to build profitable agricultural businesses.” Emerging Farmers could be women, veterans, persons with disabilities, American Indian/Alaskan Native, people from communities of color, young people and urban farmers.
“The Emerging Farmers’ Working Group’s first year laid a strong foundation for efforts to build the agricultural industry of the future, by bringing all voices and ideas to the table,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a statement. “I’m thankful to the returning and new members who are committing to move this important conversation forward. I’m so excited about this work.”
Twenty percent of the Minnesota population are people of color, a term defined by the Minnesota State Demographic Center as those who identify with a race other than White, Hispanic or Latin. The majority of people (80%) are Non-Hispanic White.
“All race groups have grown recently in [the state], but between 2010 and 2018, the state has added five times as many People of Color as non-Hispanic White residents,” the agency reports. “Populations of Color are distributed unevenly across the state, and are more likely to live in metro areas than rural areas.”
“Predating the Biden administration’s push to help farmers of color were efforts by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who took office in 2019 with similar vows to increase opportunities in an industry of aging white men and daunting barriers to entry not just for people of color but the young, women and others with nontraditional backgrounds,” per The Star Tribune.
The USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture found that 99% (110,824) of farmers in Minnesota are white. The state only has 39 black farmers.