‘We’re looking for an open door where they have been closed in the past.’
Cargill partners with Black farmers to build a more equitable future in agriculture
Read Time: 3 minutes
March 04, 2022
For Kimberly Ratcliff, farming is generational.
She left her job on Wall Street in 2007 to become a second-generation rancher on her family’s 2,500-acre Texas cattle ranch. Her goal: To someday pass the operation to her family’s next generation.
Kimberly knows Black farmers like herself face generational barriers in agriculture. Today, Black farmers in the U.S. make up less than 2% of the country’s 3.4 million farmers — the result of an alarming decline and a legacy of systemic inequality.
For Kimberly, those barriers have included a lack of access and visibility to sell to new markets. The alternatives, like selling cattle at nearby auction barns, limit buyers, negotiation and profitability. Producers may not always break even, she says.
“We really don’t have any other idea of where the markets are for our product,” Kimberly told a group of Cargill leaders last May. “We’re not really getting the true value of the product we produce.”
So, one year ago, Cargill launched the Black Farmer Equity Initiative — to respond to these inequities and honor a long-standing commitment to farmers in the U.S. and around the world. The program focuses on partnerships with producers like Ratcliff to help build a more equitable agricultural economy.
Now, those partnerships are expanding.
‘The status quo is not acceptable’
The Black Farmer Equity Initiative recently announced new partnerships with organizations across the United States. There’s a long way to go, but the funding is a step toward increasing participation, profitability and productivity of Black farmers, ranchers and growers by putting them at the center of solutions.
"Programs like Cargill's Black Farmer Equity Initiative provide new ways for Black producers to access markets and sell their livestock and crops,” says Kimberly, who also serves as executive director of 100 Ranchers, an organization that unites Black producers and is one of Cargill’s initial partners. “We’re looking for an open door where they have been closed in the past.”
The initiative is part of Cargill’s broader commitments to improve farmer livelihoods and dismantle systemic anti-Black racism.
Listening, learning and co-creating
Cargill spent a year listening to and learning from Black farmers and customers, then began co-creating programs focused on improving access to markets, capital and information, and technology. So far, the company has partnered with several organizations, including the National Black Growers Council, the Arkansas Land and Community Development Corporation, the National Minority Supplier Development Council and others.
The initiative has started “opening some of these doors” for Black farmers, says James Monger, a diversity, equity and inclusion champion in Cargill's agricultural supply chain business.
“We’re going to help them talk to the right people at the right companies within those supply chains,” James says. “That’s where the relationships are going to really add value.”
In the long term, the Black Farmer Equity Initiative hopes to build an ecosystem that connects Black farmers, customers and the resources they need, organizers say.
Putting ‘dollars in people’s pockets, food in people’s mouths’
The first supply chain programs aimed to expand opportunities and access to capital and markets for cotton and beef producers. The program will continue to help increase Black producers in those supply chains and add others, including corn, yellow peas, poultry and soybeans. It also will focus on key states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.
Benson Webb, a project manager for the Black Farmer Equity Initiative, says breaking down barriers with Black producers was a crucial first step. In its second year, the initiative is focused on continuing to build partnerships with customers, he says. And long-term: The goal is to build an ecosystem that connects Black farmers, customers and the resources they need to succeed.
“We’re putting dollars in people’s pockets, food in people’s mouths,” Benson says. “This change matters.”
It certainly matters to producers like Kimberly.
“Cargill's support of 100 Ranchers will help increase Black producers' bottom line,” she says, “and improve their livelihoods.”