The Farmer Equity Act passed by the California legislature in 2017 defined “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” and required the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to ensure that food and agriculture laws, policies, and programs be developed in consultation with socially disadvantaged and women farmers and ranchers.
CDFA recently issued the 2020 Report to the California Legislature on the Farmer Equity Act on progress to date in implementing the Farmer Equity Act. Using data based on stakeholder and agency interviews, the report identifies four primary challenges facing socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers and suggests specific actions to meet each challenge.
Farmer profiles are interspersed throughout the text, illustrating the diversity of California’s farms and the complexities faced by these operations. CCOF-certified farmers profiled in the report include Myrna Arambula, Kaley Grimland-Mendoza and Edgar Mendoza, and Nikiko Masumoto.
The report cites Census of Agriculture data as showing that 19 percent¬—or almost 1 in 5—farmers and ranchers in California are socially disadvantaged and notes that this statistic is likely an underestimate of the actual number of socially disadvantaged producers because many producers don’t return Census of Agriculture surveys.
The four challenges identified in the report are:
Challenge 1: land tenure. Many socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers lease ground rather than own it. Year-to-year uncertainty about land availability can discourage growers from investing in conservation practices and can disqualify them from state and federal support programs. The report identifies land tenure as the single biggest challenge for beginning farmers.
The report offers some solutions including outreach to make growers aware of loan and other support programs, review of grant program requirements to ensure farms and ranches on leased ground are eligible to apply, and work to increase access to land preserved in agricultural easements for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Challenge 2: language. Many socially disadvantaged farmers don’t speak English as their first language, making it difficult to access information on agricultural production, marketing, and support programs. Few socially disadvantaged growers can afford to pay for the services of crop consultants and must rely on information from public technical assistance providers such as Resource Conservation District (RCD) and UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) staff, creating high demand for bilingual information specialists.
CDFA has taken steps to translate materials into Spanish and incentivizes staff to have bilingual competency. In 2019 CDFA created a new position specifically devoted to outreach to Spanish-speaking farmers and ranchers. CDFA also has a Spanish language Twitter account and translates all news releases into Spanish. Key CDFA programs including the Office of Environmental Innovation and CalCannabis have dedicated public outreach staff for underserved farmer groups. CDFA plans to add a Google translate button to its website so that all materials can be translated into multiple languages.
Challenge 3: engagement with agriculture industry and boards/commissions. CDFA seeks input from farmers and ranchers through advisory boards, task forces, and numerous commodity commissions. Socially disadvantaged producers are under-represented in these bodies: the report notes only 10 percent of CDFA board and committee members are women and that 84 are White/Caucasian. Reasons for this asymmetry include meeting times during working hours, language barriers, and not seeing value in joining these groups.
To address this challenge, CDFA plans to conduct outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers to recruit them for advisory boards and commissions. CDFA is also evaluating communications, logistics, and board tenure of each entity to find ways to make them more accessible to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Challenge 4: access to available resources and programs. CDFA offers grants directly to growers through the Climate Smart Agriculture Programs which include the Healthy Soils Program, the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program, the Alternative Manure Management Program, and the Dairy Digester Research Program. Socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers may not be aware of these funding opportunities unless their communities are prioritized for outreach and technical support. CDFA has successfully increased participation in some programs by prioritizing such support and plans to continue this work.
The report ends with recommendations for CDFA itself to address farmer equity, such as providing staff racial equity training, more diverse representation of farmers and ranchers in outreach materials, and coordinating equity efforts with other state agencies.