Minority Operated Farms across the Nation

Minority principal operators (MPOs) of farms in the United States constitute a relatively small percentage of principal operators overall, but they represent a growing demographic as the number of independent farms continues to decline.   In some states MPOs now comprise more than 50% of operators. This brief essay provides insight into the geographic distribution of farms managed by MPOs.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products is produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during a calendar year. According to the USDA, a principal operator is responsible for a farm’s day-to-day operations. This individual also typically considers farming his or her primary occupation. For the purposes of this essay, minority principal operators include five categories of farmers:

  • Hispanic, which defines a region of origin, not a person’s race;
  • American Indian or Native American;
  • Black or African American;
  • Asian; and multi-race, persons who identify with more than one race.
  • In addition, USDA recognizes Native Hawaiian / Pacific Islanders in Hawaii and Alaska Natives in Alaska.

The U.S. agriculture and farming industry now has approximately 2,109,303 principal farm operators and MPOs make up more than 151,891 of that total. MPO’s are a relatively small percentage of principal operators, but, as noted above, they represent a growing demographic, despite the nationwide decline of individuals who consider farming their primary occupation. From 2007 – 2012, the number of principal operators of farms decreased by 4.3%, (NASS Farm Demographics Highlights). Meanwhile, the number of MPOs in each minority group USDA tracks rose during the same period (Figure 1). States located in the Southwest have the highest number of MPOs, followed by Southeastern states (Figure 2). In the Southwest, Hispanic principal operators predominate in California, New Mexico and Texas; Native American MPOs constitute a major presence in Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona; Asian MPOs prevail in California; and African American MPOs are much in evidence in Texas. The next largest regional distribution of MPOs is located in the southeast, where African American principal operators constitute a major demographic, although several other states, including Colorado, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska have a sizeable number of MPOs as well. The seven states with more than 5,000 MPOs together are home to 70% of all such farmers (Figures 3-4 and Tables 2 and 3). In addition, MPOs today comprise more than 10% of all principal operator farmers in these states (in the top four instances they make up 19.25% – 62.38% of MPOs in those states). Two of those high percentage MPO states are among the top agriculture producing areas in the nation. California is the top such state with 19% MPOs, while Texas, the third highest agriculture producing state, has 14% MPOs.

Despite the growth of MPOs, the majority of such farms produce sales of less than $10,000 (NASS Farm Demographics Highlights). This over representation in the $10,000 or less sales class translates into lower representation in higher sales classes (Table 1). There is an exception; MPO farms with Asian principal operators “tend to be smaller in size than farms overall, but have higher sales” (NASS AI/AN Highlights). This may be due in part to their production of specialty crops.

This preliminary analysis offers a snapshot of the locations in which MPOs are concentrated across the nation (Figure 2). The next step in my inquiry is to explore why most MPOs produce sales of less than $10,000. Where are Hispanics, African Americans and American Indians who are underrepresented in the higher sales classes, $50,000 to $99,999 and $100,000+, located? What qualities do MPOs in each sales class have that supported their entry into that group? What education, training, knowledge, and/or background do the most successful MPOs have in common? Which states generate the highest MPO farm sales and production? In which states are MPOs well integrated into the food system? What organizations provide assistance to MPOs? Where are federal, state and local resources earmarked for MPOs being directed and why? Are these resources having an impact? What has motivated these MPOs to enter into farming?

Figure 1

Minority Principal Operators 2007 and 2012

Table 1

Share of Farms by Sales Class for Minority Operators, 2012

(percent of group)

Annual

Sales

All Farms   Hispanic American

Indian

Black Asian
Less than $10,000 56.6 68.4 78.1 78.9 43.4
$10,000 to $49,999 18.9 17.1 14.3 15.6 22.3
$50,000 to $99,999 6.1 4.5 2.9 2.4 7.5
$100,000 or more 18.4 10.0 4.7 3.1 26.8
Total 100 100 100 100 100

Source: USDA NASS, 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Figure 2 

Number of Minority Principal Farm Operators within States

Number of Minority Principal Farm Operators within States

 

Figure 3 (see Table 2)

States with 10,000+ minority principal farm operators 2012

 

Figure 4 (see Table 3)

States with 5,000-9,999 minority principal farm operators

 

 

Figure 5 (see table 4)

States with 2,500-4,999 minority principal farm operators

Figure 6 (see table 5)

States with 1,000-2,499 minority principal farm operators

Table 2

States with 10,000+ minority principal farm operators, 2012

State AI/AN % AI/AN NHPI % NHPI Asian % Asian Black % Black Hispanic % Hispanic Multi-Race % Multi-Race Total
MPFO
AZ^ 11,190 92.5% 0 0.0% 97 0.8% 25 0.2% 716 5.9% 72 0.6% 12,100
CA*^ 1,192 7.1% 0 0.0% 4,802 28.6% 345 2.1% 9,815 58.4% 660 3.9% 16,814
NM^ 5,202 35.2% 0 0.0% 29 0.2% 39 0.3% 9,377 63.4% 149 1.0% 14,796
OK^ 7,489 61.9% 0 0.0% 285 2.4% 1,337 11.1% 1,173 9.7% 1,814 15.0% 12,098
TX*^ 2,693 7.3% 0 0.0% 718 1.9% 8,551 23.1% 23,689 64.0% 1,371 3.7% 37,022
 
                                                                                                  Table 3

                                                   States with 5,000-9,999 minority principal farm operators, 2012

State AI/AN % AI/AN NHPI % NHPI Asian % Asian Black % Black Hispanic % Hispanic Multi-Race % Multi-Race Total
MPFO
FL^ 386 5.2% 0 0.0% 829 11.3% 1,481 20.1% 4,459 60.6% 203 2.8% 7,358
MS^ 133 2.3% 0 0.0% 66 1.2% 5,029 88.1% 397 7.0% 83 1.5% 5,708

 

Table 4

States with 5,000-9,999 minority principal farm operators, 2012

State AI/AN % AI/AN NHPI % NHPI Asian % Asian Black % Black Hispanic % Hispanic Multi-Race % Multi-Race Total
MPFO
AL 488 12.3% 0 0.0% 67 1.7% 2,779 70.1% 332 8.4% 301 7.6% 3,967
AR 507 18.7% 0 0.0% 354 13.0% 1,064 39.2% 509 18.8% 280 10.3% 2,714
CO 270 9.1% 0 0.0% 170 5.7% 47 1.6% 2,318 78.1% 163 5.5% 2,968
GA 127 4.3% 0 0.0% 239 8.1% 1,986 67.3% 443 15.0% 157 5.3% 2,952
HI^ 32 0.7% 613 13.4% 2,824 62.0% 18 0.4% 383 8.4% 688 15.1% 4,558
LA^ 204 6.2% 0 0.0% 64 1.9% 2,359 71.1% 538 16.2% 151 4.6% 3,316
NC* 596 19.3% 0 0.0% 179 5.8% 1,637 53.1% 493 16.0% 179 5.8% 3,084
SC^ 128 5.0% 0 0.0% 67 2.6% 2,025 78.4% 270 10.5% 92 3.6% 2,582
WA 458 14.7% 0 0.0% 436 14.0% 60 1.9% 1,874 60.1% 288 9.2% 3,116
 

Table 5

States with 2,500-4,999 minority principal farm operators, 2012

State AI/AN % AI/AN NHPI % NHPI Asian % Asian Black % Black Hispanic % Hispanic Multi-Race % Multi-Race Total
MPFO
ID 154 14.4% 0 0.0% 85 8.0% 14 1.3% 695 65.0% 121 11.3% 1,069
KS* 395 24.7% 0 0.0% 71 4.4% 165 10.3% 693 43.4% 272 17.0% 1,596
KY 178 12.5% 0 0.0% 71 5.0% 437 30.8% 482 33.9% 253 17.8% 1,421
MI 204 15.5% 0 0.0% 54 4.1% 216 16.5% 674 51.3% 165 12.6% 1,313
MO 442 23.7% 0 0.0% 235 12.6% 176 9.4% 548 29.4% 465 24.9% 1,866
MT 1,318 75.2% 0 0.0% 31 1.8% 10 0.6% 246 14.0% 148 8.4% 1,753
OR 403 21.9% 0 0.0% 286 15.5% 31 1.7% 882 47.9% 241 13.1% 1,843
SD* 817 71.9% 0 0.0% 5 0.4% 6 0.5% 200 17.6% 109 9.6% 1,137
TN 281 13.7% 0 0.0% 87 4.2% 992 48.3% 467 22.7% 226 11.0% 2,053
VA 180 7.5% 0 0.0% 134 5.6% 1,496 62.1% 470 19.5% 129 5.4% 2,409

 

*Indicates top ag producing state.

^Indicates MPOs make-up 10% or more of principal operators in the state.

Source: For the above figures and tables: USDA NASS 2012 Census of Agriculture

References

Quick Stats – 2012 Census of Agriculture data, National Agriculture Statistics Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/

2012 Census of Agriculture, Highlights, Asian Farmers, ACH12-9 2014, https://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Asian_Farmers/Highlights_Asian_Farmers.pdf

2012 Census of Agriculture, Highlights, Farm Demographics, ACH12-3 May 2014,

https://agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Online_Resources/Highlights/Farm_Demographics/Highlights_Farm_Demographics.pdf

2012 Census of Agriculture, Highlights, Farm Economics, ACH12-2 May 2014,

Lavinia Panizo

Lavinia (Vinnie) Panizo is a Masters student in the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) at Virginia Tech and is pursuing a Master’s in Public Administration with a certificate in Economic Development. She received her bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish from Virginia Commonwealth University.  She also has a teaching credential in Secondary Education with a focus on Social Studies and an emphasis in Cross-Cultural Language Acquisition and Development from California State University Northridge.

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