How Cargill connects Black farmers to new possibilities in agriculture
Read Time: 4 minutes
February 14, 2023
In one of John Lee’s oldest memories, he is sitting on his grandfather’s lap, driving their tractor through the family farm. Years later, he would understand the significance of that moment.
“This farm has been in our family since my great grandfather was freed from slavery,” says John, who farms various crops, including cotton, in Arkansas. “His name was Frank Edwards. He purchased this land to be passed on for generations to come. We’ve been in production for well over 100 years.”
Few Black Americans had the opportunity to buy land during the 19th century. Numerous political and societal barriers prevented many newly emancipated Black people from purchasing property. The repercussions are still felt today.
Black farmers make up less than 2% of the 3.4 million farmers in the U.S.
John’s farm is not only his family’s livelihood — it’s also a legacy he intends to preserve for future generations, he says. Recently, John found a new partner to help him do that: Cargill.
“Cargill and other companies came to me and a number of other Black farmers to discuss opportunities to do business with us,” he explains. “But I have to give Cargill credit, they’ve been the tip of the spear, helping us connect with new potential buyers and develop our businesses.”
Through Cargill’s Black Farmer Equity Initiative, John has found new possibilities in agriculture. These include sustainably raising cotton, which has increased his farm’s profitability.
“We’re growing more than cotton here. We’re growing the future. What we do today will make life better for the generations to come.”
From the cotton farm to a retail store
In the U.S., you may have seen retailer Target launch t-shirts sourced from cotton grown on Black farms.
What you may not have seen was Cargill using its role at the heart of the supply chain to connect Black cotton growers like John Lee to big retailers like Target.
Our cotton team learned both companies had similar goals to support Black farmers. Combining Cargill’s deep expertise in cotton and Target’s similarly deep expertise in consumer-branded products, the two companies developed a program that brings Black cotton farmers front and center.
“Other Black farmers are getting excited to join the program, because they can walk into Target and see a section devoted to our work,” John says. “It gives them a sense of pride.”
The program began in 2022 with three farmers. It’s grown to 25 today with others joining. The path toward the future is clear: providing access to new markets and new commodities, involving new partners.
“I was born in 1968, the year of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., in Memphis, a city that was racially divided. I grew up around an unhealthy narrative around race. I would never portray that I understand the suffering of Black people in this country. But for me, given where I grew up, this work has been healing.”
Making agriculture more equitable for Black farmers
Cargill’s Black Farmer Equity Initiative, first introduced in 2021, helps address racial inequity in agriculture. Alongside our customers, our teams are working to increase the participation, profitability and productivity of Black farmers, ranchers and growers.
“Programs like Cargill's Black Farmer Equity Initiative provide new ways for Black producers to access markets and sell their livestock and crops. We’re looking for an open door where they have been closed in the past.”
Today, the program is working to connect Black farmers to markets, capital, information and technology across a number of supply chains — from beef and poultry to corn and cotton. This includes launching a new program with the National Minority Supplier Development Council that creates pathways for a cohort of Black farmers to succeed in agriculture.