In the recent national election, it became painfully clear that Hispanics in America are now a force to be reckoned with. Many politicians who were less than sensitive to issues of interest to Hispanics paid the price at the polls in November.
It might be instructive to realize that the farming industry is very sensitive to the needs of Hispanic farmers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a Hispanic American Outreach Program in place under the aegis of the Farm Service Agency (FSA).
Since mid-1996, the FSA has made the program an integral part of its efforts to provide better services for those requiring it. There is an emphasis on the underserved, to help them to conserve land and water and provide loans to new and disadvantaged family-size farmers and ranchers.
The FSA also provides education and assistance to traditionally underserved communities through partnerships with community-based organizations, and farm groups, as well as 1862, 1890, and 1994 land grant universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and other educational institutions for higher learning. Among the continuing benefits of the mandated FSA programs are direct payments, loan opportunities, disaster recovery, commodity services and conservation measures.
The USDA pointed out that Hispanic influences on American agriculture date back to Spanish exploration and settlement in Northwestern Mexico, now the American Southwest. The explorers and settlers in the region introduced horses, cattle and other Spanish agricultural traditions, thereby altering the indigenous farming practices. On their large land grants, Spanish rancheros established many of the open-range western cattle ranching practices that survived well into the 19th century.
In the 20th century, Hispanics were most visible in American agriculture as farm workers. They were known as braceros, Mexican guest workers hired by U.S. growers, or as Mexican-American migrant workers and day laborers who followed the seasonal crop patterns on their own. They brought experienced and skilled labor to American agriculture.
As the number of guest or migrant workers grew, so grew the number of Hispanics in the American population involved in farm operation. The USDA said the number of Spanish, Hispanic, Latino or Puerto Rican origin farm operators increased by 50.8 percent in the continental U.S., from 33,450 in 1997 to 50,443 in 2002. There are an additional 17,659 Hispanic farmers in Puerto Rico. Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group among American farm operators.
The day will come when instead of thinking of Hispanics as farm workers, we’ll think of them as farm owners.
I’ll see ya.
An Iowa native, Peter Graham has been a rural newspaper editor for more than 40 years. He currently edits a twice-weekly paper in Western Iowa. You can contact him at (712) 642-2791 or news@missourivalley times.com.