USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and all of USDA are committed to supporting the next generation of farmers and ranchers and promoting diversity and inclusion in all sectors of agriculture. As Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), I had the pleasure of advancing these important priorities during our Research and Promotion Program (R&P) board diversity and inclusion training session, held in Northern Virginia prior to the 2015 Agricultural Outlook Forum.
Meeting participants – including more than 50 board members and board staff from 20 of the 22 R&P boards that we oversee, AMS employees, and representatives of Certified Nominating Organizations – gathered to tackle a serious issue: how to recruit talented and diverse board members who are representative of the industries they serve. The R&P boards allow farmers and ranchers to pool their resources and set common goals to develop new markets and strengthen current markets for the commodities they grow or handle.
The training focused on recruiting members from the next generation of farmers – people who will ensure that the boards help American agriculture remain an engine of economic opportunity for years to come. National Dairy Board member Brian Medeiros noted that the session “was a great way to bring R&P boards together to share successes and challenges as we work to include younger producers on our promotion Boards.”
We heard from a range of exciting presenters – Doug Swanson, 4-H national program manager with USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, led a session on recruitment; Michael Wallace, Walmart’s Director of Global Diversity and Inclusion, discussed unconscious bias and the way that inclusion increases innovation; Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden emphasized how important it is to find and develop new leaders; and Lilia McFarland, USDA’s New and Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator, talked about how USDA resources can help new farmers and ranchers succeed. There was also a panel of board stakeholders who shared recruitment strategies, outreach opportunities, successful inclusion ideas, and best practices for success.
The training ended with a roundtable discussion that generated practical ideas for enhancing recruitment and diversity on the boards. As Cotton Board President and Chief Executive Officer William Gillon said, “I left with at least 12 new ideas to bring back to the Cotton Board. That is a good return.” And that was what this training was all about – giving the boards the tools they need to recruit talented, diverse, and multi-generational board members.
A key step toward this goal is the fundamental recognition that diversity and inclusion make the boards stronger. As United Soybean Board Chief Operating Officer Lisa O’Brien said, “The soy- checkoff family is committed to ensuring the U.S. soy industry thrives for generations to come. That means attracting our farmer-leaders of tomorrow. We can’t do that effectively without making sure that every soybean farmer in the nation knows of the opportunities to serve their industry.”
As one meeting participant noted, “If you’re at the table and everyone looks like you, how are you going to get those new ideas?”
I look forward to seeing how the boards will implement all that we learned. I also want to emphasize that AMS and USDA are committed to making progress in this area, which is why we created a number of outreach materials to help R&P boards with recruitment. We invite you to find out more by watching a short video on R&P diversity, learn how you can shape the future of agriculture by serving on a research and promotion board, or find out how to be a voice for your industry on one of our other councils, committees and boards.