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Racial, ethnic and gender inequities in farmland ownership and farming in the U.S.

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Abstract

This paper provides an analysis of U.S. farmland owners, operators, and workers by race, ethnicity, and gender. We first review the intersection between racialized and gendered capitalism and farmland ownership and farming in the United States. Then we analyze data from the 2014 Tenure and Ownership Agricultural Land survey, the 2012 Census of Agriculture, and the 2013–2014 National Agricultural Worker Survey to demonstrate that significant nation-wide disparities in farming by race, ethnicity and gender persist in the U.S. In 2012–2014, White people owned 98% and operated 94% of all farmland. They generated 98% of all farm-related income from land ownership and 97% of income from farm owner-operatorship. Meanwhile, People of Color farmers (African American or Black, Asian American, Native American, Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and Hispanic farmers) were more likely to be tenants rather than owners, owned less land, and generated less farm-related wealth per person than their White counterparts. Hispanic farmers were also disproportionately farm laborers. In addition to racial and ethnic disparities, there were disparities by gender. About 63% of non-operating landowners, 86% of farm operators, and 87% of tenant farmers were male, and female farmers tended to generate less income per farmer than men. This data provides evidence of ongoing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in agriculture in the United States. We conclude with a call to address the structural drivers of the disparities and with recommendations for better data collection.
Vol.:(0123456789)
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Agriculture and Human Values (2019) 36:1–16
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-018-9883-3
Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership
andfarming intheU.S.
MeganHorst1 · AmyMarion1
Accepted: 13 August 2018 / Published online: 28 October 2018
© Springer Nature B.V. 2018
Abstract
This paper provides an analysis of U.S. farmland owners, operators, and workers by race, ethnicity, and gender. We first
review the intersection between racialized and gendered capitalism and farmland ownership and farming in the United States.
Then we analyze data from the 2014 Tenure and Ownership Agricultural Land survey, the 2012 Census of Agriculture, and
the 2013–2014 National Agricultural Worker Survey to demonstrate that significant nation-wide disparities in farming by
race, ethnicity and gender persist in the U.S. In 2012–2014, White people owned 98% and operated 94% of all farmland.
They generated 98% of all farm-related income from land ownership and 97% of income from farm owner-operatorship.
Meanwhile, People of Color farmers (African American or Black, Asian American, Native American, Hawaiian or other
Pacific Islander, and Hispanic farmers) were more likely to be tenants rather than owners, owned less land, and generated less
farm-related wealth per person than their White counterparts. Hispanic farmers were also disproportionately farm laborers.
In addition to racial and ethnic disparities, there were disparities by gender. About 63% of non-operating landowners, 86%
of farm operators, and 87% of tenant farmers were male, and female farmers tended to generate less income per farmer than
men. This data provides evidence of ongoing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in agriculture in the United States. We
conclude with a call to address the structural drivers of the disparities and with recommendations for better data collection.
Keywords Farming· Farmland· Equity· Racial capitalism· Gendered capitalism· Food justice· Agrarian question
Abbreviations
COA Census of Agriculture
NASS National Agricultural Statistics Services
NAWS National Agricultural Worker Survey
POC Person of Color/People of Color
TOTAL Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricul-
tural Land survey
USDA United States Department of Agriculture
Introduction
In this article, we examine the legacies of structural dis-
crimination, racialized and gendered capitalism and white
supremacy in agriculture. We first conduct a literature
review of structural violence and discrimination against
racial and ethnic minorities and women throughout U.S.
agricultural history, focusing on themes of dispossession
and exclusion. Another factor in the existing disparities is
the ongoing restructuring of agriculture in the United States.
We discuss how the emphasis towards larger, industrialized,
and more capitalized farms, alongside the lack of sufficient
support for mid and small-sized farms, has had dispropor-
tionate racial, ethnic and gender impacts.
We then turn to our research objective, which is to under-
stand existing racial, ethnic and gender disparities in farm-
land tenure and labor. Using data from the 2014 Tenure,
Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL)
survey and the 2012 Census of Agriculture (COA), both
from the United States Department of Agriculture National
Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA NASS), we examine
the demographics of non-operating landowners, owner-
operators and tenant-operators, their number of acres owned
and operated, and farm-related income. We also make some
comparison to farm laborers, using data from the 2013–2014
National Agricultural Worker Survey (NAWS) from the
* Megan Horst
mhorst@pdx.edu
Amy Marion
marion@pdx.edu
1 Toulan School ofUrban Studies, Portland State University,
P.O. Box751, Portland, OR97207, USA
2 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
Department of Labor. Where possible, we compare to his-
torical data.
Our findings demonstrate that centuries of structural
discrimination in US agriculture contribute to current sig-
nificant disparities in farming by race, ethnicity and gender.
White, non-Hispanic and male farmers overwhelmingly
own more land and generate more farm-related wealth
than farmers of color, with Hispanic ethnicity, and females.
Meanwhile, people of color and Hispanic farmers are dis-
proportionately farm laborers. In terms of racial, ethnic, or
gender equality, American agriculture has made little, if any
progress over the past 100years.
While in recent years the USDA has implemented some
programming specifically supporting minority and female
farmers, these actions are insufficient in reversing centu-
ries of unequal treatment and opportunity. They also do
not appear to be sufficient in countering other policy direc-
tion and pressure by agribusiness towards larger and more
industrialized farming. This article underscores the need to
address the root causes of the ongoing racial, ethnic and gen-
der disparities in farming in the U.S. We conclude by calling
for more reliable data collection and detailed reporting on
the intersectional demographics of farmland owners, farm
operators, and farm operators, as well as possible policy
direction.
Literature review
In the following review of U.S. agricultural history, we spe-
cifically look at the historical and structural drivers of racial,
ethnic and gender inequities in farmland tenure and farming.
Our focus is informed by first understanding U.S. agricul-
tural history as one where racialized and gendered capitalism
have produced and continue to produce disparate outcomes.
Our focus on the disparate impacts of capitalism is part of a
growing body of scholarship on racial and gendered capital-
ism, in which scholars analyze how capitalist accumulation,
or the expropriation of land, labor and resources from peo-
ple, has been based on exploiting human difference (Rob-
inson 1983; Gilmore 2000; Isenberg 2016; Pulido 2016). In
the following paragraphs, we review a brief (and by neces-
sity, over-simplified) history of the past 500years of farming
in the U.S., discussing how colonization, enclosure, and the
ongoing agrarian transition under capitalism affects farmers
disproportionately by race, ethnicity and gender.
Dispossession andexclusion
Prior to European arrival, over 15million Native Americans,
organized in hundreds of tribes, inhabited this land (Dunbar-
Ortiz 2014). The tribes each had developed their own food
systems and relationships with land. Each had systems of
land tenure, stewardship, and food cultivation. Major activi-
ties, varying by the tribe and their context, involved culti-
vating (for example, corn and beans on the Great Plains),
raising domesticated animals, hunting, and fishing. Many
tribes did not have a concept of private land ownership, and
instead practiced varying kinds of communal ownership and
management.
European settlers began arriving in what is now the
United States in the fifteenth century, and in much bigger
numbers in subsequent centuries. Many of the European
settlers had been peasant farmers in their home countries,
forced off of previously commonly-held agricultural land
due to enclosure acts which privatized agricultural land
ownership and made common land access illegal. Accord-
ing to Neeson (1993), enclosures in Britain between 1750
and 1820 dispossessed former occupiers from nearly one-
third of the land. Powerful landowners also later instituted
enclosures in other counties, like Germany, France, and
Denmark, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Upon
arriving in the U.S., these immigrant peasant farmers often
sought secure land tenure for themselves, but with a conse-
quence of excluding others.
Early on, the settlers developed a land recording system
that made it possible to buy and sell land, enabling it to
be a commodity for investment and trade. It was a pivotal
moment in history, and the value of farmland has since been
seen as an appreciable asset, apart from its use value for food
cultivation (Pivo 1984). Dunbar-Ortiz (2014, p.1) described
the importance of this change: “Everything in U.S. history
is about the land—who oversaw and cultivated it, fished
its waters, maintained its wildlife; who invaded and stole
it; how it became a commodity (“real estate”) broken into
pieces to be bought and sold on the market.” In their quest
to get private land, and fueled by the notion of “manifest
destiny”, settlers systematically dispossessed Native Ameri-
cans of their land base, often using physical violence and/or
manipulation. They were supported with the legal backing
and financial support of the U.S. government. This occurred
differently in different phases of colonization and in different
parts of the United States, and was contested by indigenous
peoples as well as some settlers, but the net effect was that
White and typically wealthier individuals obtained land,
while poor, indigenous and people from marginalized racial
and ethnic backgrounds did not (Greer 2012).
Policy, war and (broken) treaties were some of the main
strategies the U.S. government used to dispossess previous
residents of their land. As one example of a policy, the 1830
Indian Removal Act forcibly relocated Cherokee, Creeks
and other eastern Indians to west of the Mississippi River
to make room for White settlers. As an example of war, in
the Southwestern part of the U.S. in 1846, the U.S. army
defeated Mexico in the Mexican–American War. In the
ensuing Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the U.S. government
3Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
promised civil and property rights to the thousands of people
of indigenous, Spanish, and mixed descent Mexican citizens
who had been living in the area, but never fully upheld the
treaty (Klein 1996). The previous inhabitants were forced to
change their land ownership systems to fit the U.S. way, and
many never received property rights. As Klein (1996, p.210)
describes, “Through the implementation of the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo, the United States’ conception of indi-
vidual, freely-alienable property rights was imposed upon a
land-dependent culture in which common land ownership
was vitally important to community’s continued survival.
Another particularly impactful set of federal policies,
the Homestead Acts in the latter half of the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, redistributed farmland that had
been taken from Native Americans throughout the West-
ern United States at no or very low cost to U.S. citizens.
Between 1863 and 1939, about one and half million house-
holds received titles to 246million acres of land (Shanks
2005). Overall, approximately 20% of U.S. land was given
away to nearly 2million households (Feagin 2000). The vast
majority of the beneficiaries were White households, since at
the time indentured servants, recent immigrants, and slaves
were barred from citizenship. The cumulative effect of vari-
ous strategies of dispossession is that Native American land-
holdings declined to about 156million acres in 1881, and
to 50million acres in 1934 (Dunbar-Ortiz 2014). By 1955,
the Native American land base was just over two percent of
its original size, and today mainly consists of land deemed
least suitable for agriculture.
While White settlers obtained land taken from Native
Americans, other groups, including Blacks and African
Americans, Asian Americans, and women experienced
violence and exclusion. In the American South, plantation
owners enslaved millions of people taken from Africa as
farmworkers on tobacco, rice and cotton plantations (Feagin
2000; Feagin etal. 2000). In 1860, there were about 4mil-
lion slaves in the Southern United States. According to
Coates (2014), these slaves represented about 16% of the
country’s total wealth at the time- which in today’s numbers
would amount to over $10 trillion, or over half of the current
Gross Domestic Product. Slavery was instrumental in the
accrual of enormous wealth by White, male landowners and
corporations, and the government of the U.S. in this era. Yet
descendants of slaves have not benefitted from this wealth.
When slavery was abolished in 1865, many previous
slaves did not have the land or resources to become inde-
pendent farmers. The federal government failed its initial
retribution promises of 40 acres and a mule to freed slaves
(Reynolds 2002). Facing few other choices, many previous
slaves became sharecroppers or farmworkers, and contin-
ued to face oppressive working conditions (Reynolds 2002).
Also by this time, a lot of the land with the richest soil,
including the notorious “Black Belt” itself between Georgia
and Arkansas, was already owned mainly by White, wealthy
men (Feagin 2000; Feagin etal. 2000). Thus Black-owned
farms located on more marginal lands in the upper and
coastal South, where Black farmers often had to supple-
ment their incomes by sharecropping on larger White-owned
lands. Despite the challenges, significant numbers of Afri-
can Americans became farmers. By 1890, Blacks made up
approximately 14% of all farmers in the United States, and
they owned a combined 15million acres of land, much of it
in the South (Williams 2006). However, those numbers have
since dropped dramatically, discussed in future sections.
Asian American farmers have also been subjected to
structural discrimination. Immigrants from the Philippines,1
China, Japan, and South Asia began arriving in the U.S., par-
ticularly Hawaii and the West Coast, in significant numbers
in the mid 1800s (Chan 1986). These early migrants often
worked as low-paid contract laborers on plantations, farms,
mines and railroads. Asian immigrants played a very impor-
tant role in the development of agriculture in California. In
the Central Valley alone in the second half of nineteenth
century, six to seven thousand Chinese pioneers were truck
farmers or farmworkers (Chan 1986). By the early 1940s,
Japanese growers had established a large presence in the
state’s produce and floral industries, dominating the markets
in strawberries, celery, and peppers. In 1941, Japanese farm-
ers produced more than 30 percent of California’s truck farm
products (Iwata 1962).
But Asian Americans experienced anti-Asian hostility
from other settlers and from government at various scales.
Both federal and state governments passed a series of exclu-
sionary laws barring Asians from owning land in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century including the 1882
Chinese Exclusion Act (Hing 1993), the 1913California
Alien Land Law and subsequent related laws which pro-
hibited the Japanese from possessing land unless they were
citizens (Higgs 1978; Aoki 1998). Anti-Japanese sentiment
escalated during World War II, when the federal government
forcibly incarcerated 110,000–120,000 Japanese people (pri-
marily on the West Coast) at internment camps. After return-
ing from the internment camps, many Japanese farmers were
unable to regain their farms.
Structural discrimination also has had gendered implica-
tions. Women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds expe-
rienced structural barriers to land ownership and farming.
Some of the early traditions established by settlers and set-
tler government excluded women from land ownership.
These traditions included the practice of joint ownership,
which kept women from owning land in their own names;
1 People from the Philippines may identify themselves as Asian or as
Pacific Islander. In 2020, the American Census will classify Filipinos
as Pacific Islanders rather than as Asian Americans.
4 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
the practice of inheritance laws and estate taxes that made
it hard for women to inherit land if their spouse died; and
the practice of giving women life estates, rather than full
title (Ammot and Matthaei 1996). Some of these traditions
were maintained well into the twentieth century, which
means that married women were oftennot able to benefit
from the Homestead Acts. Single women in some ways
had more opportunities to own. The 1862 Homestead Act
enabled heads of household to claim land, and many single
women working class did. Depending on time and place,
approximately 5–20% of homesteaders were women- though
mainly White women due to the significant racial and eth-
nic discrimination discussed earlier (Patterson-Black 1976).
Women of color, then, have faced multiple structural barri-
ersdue to boththeir race/ethnicity and gender to engagement
in farming. Due to this combination of barriers, farmland
ownership at the end of nineteenth century was largely domi-
nated by White men.
Consolidation andcapitalization
Alongside the waves of dispossession and exclusion, another
theme of the agrarian transition in the United States particu-
larly in the past century is that of consolidation and capitali-
zation. The trend toward greater consolidation and capitali-
zation has had disparate racial, ethnic and gendered impacts.
In the 1800s and early 1900s, many American farms were
(White and male-owned) small-scale family farms with
diverse crops. One exception to this was in the American
South, where large, sprawling plantations, often reliant on
slave labor and later on sharecropping, were more typical.
Another exception was California, where farms typically
relied on waves of hired farm labor, including Chinese,
Japanese, Sikhs, Filipinos, Southern Europeans, Mexicans,
Okies, and then Mexicans again. Beginning with the New
Deal, and continuing into the subsequent decades, the fed-
eral government and corporate agribusiness have ushered in
an era of intense scaling-up, farm consolidation, and inter-
national commodity trading (Opie 1987; Dimitri etal. 2005;
Rosenberg and Stucki 2017). Historians and economists con-
clude that New Deal era farm bills “accelerated the increas-
ing concentration of land… large landowners reaped most of
the federal money” (Daniel 2013, p. 9). Meanwhile, farmers,
tenants, and sharecroppers were “shoved aside in the rush
toward bigger units, more tractors, and less men per acre.”
As a result, from 1930 to 1950, the number of farmersof
all races, ethnicities, and genderdeclined by 14% (Rosen-
berg and Stucki 2017). These declines were followed in the
next decades by even greater declines as federal support for
industrialization continued. In recent decades, the benefits
of Farm Bill-related subsidies and access to international
markets has accrued to the largest farms, mainly operations
of 1500 acres or larger growing wheat, corn, soybeans and
others (Daniel 2013). Due to the legacies of structural dis-
crimination, the owners of these larger farms, which keep
growing larger, are more likely to be White males. Mean-
while, the institutionalizing of commodity price supports
reduced opportunities for would-be small-scale farmers to
enter farming (Daniel 2013; Reynolds 2002). This has par-
ticularly harmed farmers of color, immigrant farmers, and
female farmers, who typically have smaller farms and grow
high-value, labor-intensive farm products like fruits and veg-
etables- so-called “specialty crops.” They tend to receive
less government support. For example, between 1985 and
1994, Black farmers averaged only $10,188 in annual sub-
sidies, less than a third the support given to White farmers,
who also were grossing four times as much as Black farmers
in sales (Reynolds 2002; Zabawa etal. 2007).
The push to industrial farming has resulted in signifi-
cant consolidation in farmland ownership and in farming.
In 2012, according to the Census of Agriculture, just over
3million farmers operated about 2million farms, covering
915million acres of land. This was a dramatic decrease from
5.3million operators, 5.4million farms and nearly 1.2bil-
lion acres in the 1950 Census of Agriculture. American agri-
cultural production and land is increasingly dominated by a
small number of very large and profitable farms. The average
farm size in 2012 was 457 acres, more than double the 222
acres in 1950. Agricultural profits are increasingly domi-
nated by a small number of large farms. In the 2012 Census
of Agriculture, 7.4% of all farms had sales of $500,000 or
more. These farms operated 41% percent of all farmland and
earned 80% of total agricultural sales. Meanwhile, 80% of
farms sell less than $100,000 annually, many of them actu-
ally lose money, and the majority of farmers rely on off-farm
income to survive financially (USDANASS 2012c).
As farms increased in size and production expectations,
farm owners and operators turned to a hired labor force. To
help them fill their labor needs during World War II, the U.S.
government implemented the Mexican Farm Labor program,
also called the Bracero Program. The program involved a
series of laws between 1942 and 1964 which lured millions
of Mexicans to work legally on U.S. farms and railroads
(Mitchell 2012). While the program was controversial and
ultimately ended, an ongoing legacy is that U.S. agriculture
continues to rely heavily on a non-U.S. born work force.
Over two-thirds of farmworkers today are from Mexico, and
between one-half to two-thirds are not legal citizens (Stro-
chlic etal. 2013). Meanwhile, farmworkers are among the
most economically disadvantaged and socially vulnerable
groups in the U.S., typically earning low wages, with few
legal protections, and often experiencing lack of safe and
affordable housing and difficult working conditions (Wells
1996; Guthman 2004).
Farmworkers do not typically advance to becoming farm
operators or farmland owners in the U.S. Minkoff-Zern
5Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
(2016) suggests that the driving factor is structural racism
by the USDA, including racist treatment of clients at local
and federal USDA offices, failing to provide culturally rel-
evant technical expertise, and an overwhelming paperwork
process that is difficult for non-English speakers and those
with limited reading and writing proficiency. Many USDA
services are not offered in any languages besides English,
a barrier identified for Spanish-speaking farm laborers and
Laotian and Hmong refugees, many of whom were farmers
in their home countries (Ostrom etal. 2010; Calo and De
Master 2016).
In addition to the challenges experienced by waged
farmworkers, minority and women farmers have been dis-
proportionately negatively impacted by both the push to
consolidation and capitalization. For example, the rate of
Black-owned farm loss in the past half century has been
estimated at more than twice the rate of White-owned farm
loss (Ayazi and Elsheikh 2015). Historian Daniel (2013,
p.21) writes, “It was almost as if the earth was opening
up and swallowing black farmers.”
One significant form of discrimination that has affected
minority and female farmers is that of lending. The United
States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency,
the major lending arm of the USDA, practiced discrimi-
natory ending practices for decades, negatively affecting
minority and women farmers. The Agency has faced and
settled lawsuits from African American (Pigford v. Glick-
man), Hispanic/Latino (Garcia v. Vilsack), Native Ameri-
can (Keepseagle v. Vilsack) and female farmers (Love v.
Vilsack) about significant discrimination in its lending
practices and services in the latter half of the twentieth
century (Cowan and Feder 2013; Minkoff-Zern 2016).
The USDA has taken recent steps to be more inclusive
of diverse farmers. For example, the department created
the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, which includes a
Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher program,
and established a microloan program that serves new
and small farmers and ranchers (Ackerman etal. 2012).
The USDA also requires minority representative on the
county committees within its Farm Service Agency. Gil-
bert (2015) notes that some USDA actors have engaged
people of color in land use planning and resource distribu-
tion decisions in positive ways. However, the changes have
not been comprehensive. Minkoff-Zern and Sloat (2017)
notes that individual practices vary, and some staff are
very committed to promoting racial equity, while others
are not. Minkoff-Zern and Sloat (2017, p.633) concludes
that overall there still is a “lack of structural support from
the agency in the pursuit of working with immigrant and
socially disadvantaged farmers.
Altogether, the agricultural history in the United States
is one of centuries of racialized and gendered capitalism. In
the remainder of this paper, we examine the consequences of
this history, by looking at current disparities in agricultural
land tenure and wealth.
Applied research methods
In the following examination of the racial, ethnic and gender
demographics of farmers in the U.S., we consider four main
categories of farmers: non-operating landowners (who own
land and lease it to operators), operator-owners (who own
and operate their land), tenants (who do not own their land),
and farm laborers (who typically work for wages). Our data
on farmland owners, principal farm operators and tenants
come from two USDA surveys: the 2014 Tenure, Owner-
ship, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey
and the 2012 Census of Agriculture (COA). We accessed
TOTAL and COA data using Quick Stats, a publicly acces-
sible web-based data portal located at https ://quick stats
.nass.usda.gov/ and operated by USDA’s National Agricul-
tural Statistical Services (NASS). The data on farm labor-
ers comes from the National Agricultural Workers Survey
(NAWS) 2013–2014 (US Department of Labor 2016). All
of these data sources have limitations relevant to our specific
research question, which we discuss later.
Of these four categories of farmers, both non-operat-
inglandownersand owner-operators in many ways have the
most secure land tenure, and in that way, the most privi-
lege and power. Today, almost all cropland and two-thirds
of pasture and rangeland in the U.S. is owned privately, by
American individuals or entities like partnerships or LLCs,
with the remaining one-third of pasture or rangeland owned
by the U.S. government, mainly the Bureau of Land Man-
agement (United States Department of Agriculture 2014a).
About 1.4million non-operating landowners own about one-
third of the privately-owned land, while about 2.1million
owner-operators farmers own the other two-thirds. Another
148 thousand farmers are tenants, who lease land. Tenants
have a less secure position, in that they have to negotiate a
lease on a regular basis, comply with the owners’ demands,
typically have little say about the future of the land, and
do not build wealth long-term from the land. The group
with the most vulnerability and least power and security are
farmworkers. The USDA Economic Research Service (2018)
estimated about 1.13million hired (non-family) farmwork-
ers in 2018, though other sources point out the likelihood of
that being an undercount due to difficulties in surveying the
population, including high mobility, language and cultural
differences, and varying levels of citizenship status (Stroch-
lic etal. 2013).
There historically has been little data on non-operating
land owners, making it difficult to examine the racial, ethnic
and gendered disparities in that group relevant to other cat-
egories of farmers (Gilbert etal. 2002; Gilbert and Beckley
6 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
2010). The USDA has only surveyed non-operating farmland
owners several times in U.S. history, with the most recent
one before 2014 being the 1999 Agricultural Economics and
Land Ownership Survey (AELOS). In 2014, USDA NASS
implemented the Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agri-
cultural Land (TOTAL) survey (USDA NASS 2014a). The
2014 TOTAL survey collected data on non-operating agri-
cultural land owners (also called “landlords”), defined as “all
individuals, partnerships, corporations, trusts, or other enti-
ties that rent out land for agricultural purposes, but did not
operate a farm or ranch in 2014,” in addition to collecting
data on operators and tenants (USDA NASS 2014b, p.7).
The data collection methodology included mailed surveys
and follow-ups by phone and in special cases, in person. The
TOTAL survey was distributed to all 48 contiguous states,
but only the 25 states with the highest cash receipts were
surveyed more extensively. Thus, consolidated data is pro-
vided at a regional and national level and state level data
is only available for those 25 states. For this reason, our
analysis is only of the national scale when considering non-
operator landlords.
Our data on owner-operators and tenants comes from
the 2012 Census of Agriculture (USDA NASS 2012c). The
COA, completed by the USDA NASS about every 5years,
is the most comprehensive government survey of farmers. It
is used by policymakers, advocacy organizations, academ-
ics, and others to understand economic and demographic
characteristics of the country’s farms, and to develop, imple-
ment, and evaluate programs and policies. The COA collects
data on farm operator characteristics, production practices,
income, and expenditure, among other things (USDA NASS
2012b). We distinguish between two kinds of farm opera-
tors: owner-operators, who own some or all of the land they
farm, and tenants, who lease the land they farm. We make
some general comparisons from the 2012 COA to past Cen-
suses, though with constraints explained in detail in the
Limitations” section.
We also present some limited information on farm labor-
ers, from the National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS)
2013–2014 (US Department of Labor 2016). The survey,
meant to be a sample of the overall population, included
face-to-face interviews with 4235 crop farmworkers (not
livestock workers, nor seasonal workers on H-2A visas). The
primary purposes of the NAWS are to monitor the terms
and conditions of agricultural employment and describe
the demographic characteristics of hired crop workers. It
is the only federal effort to collect demographic data on
farmworkers.
In the Findings section, we present summary statistics on
the racial, ethnic and gender disparities among non-operat-
ing landowners, owner-operators and tenants. Within these
groups we examined three metrics: representation, acreage
owned or operated, and income generated. As a reference,
we also provide demographic data for the total United States
population using data from the Census Bureau for year in
question. We also cross-examine race, Hispanic ethnicity,
and age by gender, where possible, for an intersectional
analysis of how race, gender and ethnic disparities may be
cumulative. Where possible, we also make comparisons to
farm laborers.
As for representation, the COA provides more compre-
hensive demographic information than the TOTAL survey.
We condensed categories to make them comparable between
the two surveys. For example, the Census of Agriculture
provided six racial categories, including White, American
Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American,
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander, and more than
one race. TOTAL data compressed all races into “White”
and “other.” Thus for our analysis we also condensed the five
non-white racial categories provided in the Census of Agri-
culture into one category, Person of Color (POC). Similarly,
the TOTAL survey only provided counts for landowners who
self-identified as Hispanic so we are unable to infer how
many landowners who identified as Hispanic also identify as
White or People of Color. Again, we consolidated Hispanic
ethnicity data from the Census of Agriculture to match the
TOTAL data by combining White/Hispanic and People of
Color/Hispanic values into one category called Hispanic. We
also compared to the racial, ethnic and gender demographics
of farmworkers.
For the acres of agricultural land owned or operated
by each of the categories of farmers, we used “Ag Land,
Owned, Rented to Others, Ownership Type, Individual and
Partnership, Acres” from the TOTAL survey and “Acres
Operated” from the Census of Agriculture.
Lastly, we compare the amount of income earned by each
of our three groups, and by race, ethnicity and gender. The
TOTAL survey and COA report measurements of income
differently. The TOTAL survey reported “Farm Related
Income, Rent, Land and Buildings, Rented to Others” for
principal non-operating landowners. This includes the sum
of share and cash rent payments on acres rented out, and
government payments, insurance indemnities, payments
associated with energy production, the sale of forest prod-
ucts, recreational activities, and tax rebates for land pres-
ervation and enrollment in private conservation programs
(USDA NASS 2014b, pp.6 and 9). For owner-operators
and tenants, the Census of Agriculture reports the “Market
Value of Agricultural Products Sold”, which represents the
gross market value before taxes of all agricultural products
sold in 2012. It includes the value of commodities placed in
the Commodity Credit Corporation loan program, but not
payments from participation in other federal farm programs
(USDA NASS 2012b). Thus, we combined this value with
the “Government Payments” value, which includes all pay-
ments made directly to operators for participation in federal
7Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
farm programs such as conservation program payments, loan
deficiency payments, and disaster payments (USDA NASS
2012b). Together these values constitute the farm-related
income operators generated in 2012.
Results
Significant racial, ethnic, and gendered differences exist in
2012–2014 among farmland owners and operators relative
to the general population in the United States, and relative
to farm laborers. First, we present the demographics of the
individual non-operating landowners, owner-operators, ten-
ants,and farm laborers, with an in depth look at gender dif-
ferences. Next,we present how those differences vary in
terms of the associated acreage. Finally, we show those dif-
ferences in terms of farm-related income. Across the analy-
sis, we examine the data in multiple directions, meaning
comparing to the overall percentage of population in the
United States, comparing percentages across one specific
indicator such as race, and percentages in one racial/ethnic
or gender category across the categories of land or income.
Each of these directions of analysis reveals different insights.
Racial, ethnic andgender differences
amongnon‑operating land owners,
owner‑operators, andtenants
In the categories of non-operating agricultural landowners,
owner-operators, and tenants, there is a higher proportion
of White people, a lower proportion of Hispanic people
and a higher proportion of men than the population at large
(Tables1, 2), a legacy of the exclusionary and discriminatory
practices discussed in the literature review. Non-operating
landowners have the highest percentage of Whites (97%) and
the lowest percentage of Hispanics (2%), but they are also
the most balanced by gender (63% male and 37% female).
For this category, we compared regions used in the TOTAL
survey and found some modest regional variation (not shown
in the tables). The Appalachian region (Kentucky, North
Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) has the
lowest percentage of White landowners, at 93.2%, followed
by the South (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Loui-
siana, Mississippi, and South Carolina) at 94.2%. The Mid-
west (Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Missouri,
and Wisconsin) and Northwest (Arizona, California, Colo-
rado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah,
Washington, and Wyoming) in comparison, had over 99%
White farmland ownership by non-operators.
Compared to non-operating landowners, owner-operators
have a similar percentage of Whites (96%) but they have
a slightly higher proportion of Hispanics (6%) and dispro-
portionately more males (86%) than females (14%). Ten-
ants have a higher percentage of POC farmers (14%) than
the other groups, while the percentage of tenants with His-
panic identity (6%) and female gender (13%) is similar to
that of owner operators. The racial and ethnic character-
istics of farm laborers differ in that the majority (62%) is
People of Color and over 80% identify as Hispanic. NAWS
estimated that only about one quarter of crop farm work-
ers were born in the United States, and the majority were
likely born in Mexico. Nearly 40% of farm laborers were
female, much higher than compared of owner-operators and
tenants, though similar to that of non-operating landowners.
The differences within the categories, with high percentages
of White, non-Hispanics and males in the land owner and
Table 1 Racial, ethnic, and gender characteristics of landlords, owner-operators, tenants, and farm laborers
a We indicate not available because NAWS itself is a sample survey, not a census, and there are conflicting reports about overall numbers of farm
laborers
Sources US Census Bureau (2013), USDA NASS (2012c), USDA NASS (2014a), US Department of Labor (2016)
United States population Non-operating land-
owners
Farm owner-operators Tenants Farm laborers
Percent Total (thousands) Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Race
White 73.9 231,888 97.1 1391 96.1 1885 86.4 128 38 N/Aa
People of color 26.1 67,262 2.9 41 3.9 77 13.6 20 62 N/A
Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic 838 260,909 97.8 1400 93.1 1826 83.4 123 20 N/A
Hispanic 16.9 52,952 2.2 31 6.2 121 6.2 9 80 N/A
Gender
Male 49.2 154,451 62.7 897 86.3 1692 87.3 129 72 N/A
Female 50.8 159,411 37.3 535 13.7 269 12.7 19 38 N/A
8 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
operator categories and higher percentages of POC, His-
panic and female farmers as tenants and farmworkers, show
that Whites have more land secure positions in farming,
likely a result of differences in inherited wealth.
In Table2 we provide more detailed racial and Hispanic
ethnicity information for owner-operators and tenants. This
data was not available for non-operating landowners or for
farmworkers in our data sources. As mentioned earlier,
both owner-operators and tenants have a higher proportion
of Whites than the United States’ population as a whole,
although there is ahigher percentage of White owner-opera-
tors (96%) than whitetenants (86%), who may be considered
a less land secure group. Among farmers of color, American
Indian or Alaska Native farmers account for 1.2% of owner-
operators and 9% of tenants. They are the only People of
Color group whose representation in farm operatorship is
more than their proportion of the population, and this may
be influenced by the legacy of reservation lands. Meanwhile,
Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or other
Pacific Islander and people reporting more than one race are
under-represented among owner-operators compared to the
general population. The proportion of POC tenant farmers is
higher than that of POCowner-operators, though still lower
than their proportion of the U.S. population on the whole,
except for Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders, whose
representation among tenant farmers (0.2%) of tenants is the
same as that in the general U.S. population.
In terms of differences by ethnicity among owner-oper-
ators and tenants, the proportion of People of Color/His-
panic and White/Hispanic is each close to 3%, less than
their representation in the U.S. population overall (5.8%
and 11.5% respectively), Meanwhile, White/non-Hispanics
are over-represented among owner-operators (93.1%) and
tenants (83.4%) relative to their proportion of the overall
U.S. population (62.8%). As in the comparison between
POC farmers and White farmers, the lower representation
of Hispanic farmers from their general population is likely
a result of decades of structural discrimination.
We continue our analysis of demographic differences
between non-operating landowners, owner-operators, and
tenants by cross-examining race, ethnicity, and age by gen-
der. Table3 shows again that White males account for the
largest proportion of all three categories of farmers. How-
ever, there are big differences across the groups for the pro-
portions of the other gender/race combinations. For example,
the second largest proportion of non-operating landowners
(36%) and owner-operators (13%) is White females, but for
tenants it is People of Color males (9%), suggesting that land
inheritance may be a factor in white females partially over-
coming their gender imbalance. The smallest proportion of
owner-operators (0.7%) and tenants (5%) is People of Color
females but for non-operating landowners (1%) it is People
of Color males. In both cases, the low proportion of People
of Color suggests the impacts of legacies of discrimination
and lack of land security. Lastly, the proportion of male His-
panics is higher for owner-operators (5%) and tenants (6%)
than non-operating landowners (1.5%). The proportion of
female Hispanics is fairly consistent across all three groups,
and below 1%.
We also examined the combination between gender and
age(Table4). Due to limitations comparing COA data to
TOTAL data, we are only able to break the age demographic
into four brackets starting at age 55. Among non-operating
landowners, the percentage of male landowners in each
age bracket is quite evenly dispersed, but the proportion of
female landowners in each bracket increases steadily with
Table 2 Racial and ethnic characteristics of owner-operators and tenants
Source US Census Bureau (2013), USDA NASS( 2012c), USDA NASS (2014a)
United States overall population Owner-operator Tenant
Percent Total (thousands) Percent Total (thou-
sands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Race
White 73.9 231,888 96.1 1885 86.4 128
American Indian or Alaska Native 0.8 2549 1.2 24 9.2 14
Asian 5.0 15,589 0.6 11 1.6 2
Black or African American 12.6 39,528 1.5 30 2.1 3
Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.2 535 0.1 1 0.2 0.2
More than one race 2.9 9061 0.5 10 0.4 0.6
Ethnicity
White/Non-Hispanic 62.8 197,212 93.1 1826 83.4 123
People of color/Hispanic 5.8 18,277 3.2 62 3.3 5
White/Hispanic 11.1 34,675 3.0 59 2.9 4
9Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
age from 4% of women under 55years of age to 13% of
women over 75years old. This may be due to older women
inheriting agricultural land after their spouses pass away.
Among owner-operators and tenants, the proportion of both
males and females in each bracket decreases with age.
Racial, ethnic andgender differences infarm
acreage
The amount of acreage owned and operated is another way
to examine racial, ethnic and gender disparity. We see some
similar patterns as with representation, and also some differ-
ences. Whites own and operate nearly all of the agricultural
land in the United States, and they own and operate larger
farms. People of Color, Hispanic and female owner-oper-
ators and tenants tend to operate smaller farms than their
White, non-Hispanic and male counterparts. These differ-
ences likely stem from White farmers having more access to
inherited land, and/or wealth and credit to buy land.
Table5 shows the amount of acreage owned and operated
in total number of acres and the associated percentage by
race, ethnicity, and gender. White landowners own 98% of
all non-operator owned land, White owner-operators operate
94% of operator-owned land, and White tenants operate 92%
of tenant-operated land. People with Hispanic ethnicity own
and operate a very small proportion of agricultural land and
the proportions decrease from Hispanic tenants (6%) to His-
panic owner-operators (4%) to Hispanic landlords (2%). By
comparing Table5 to Table1, we can see some imbalances
between the proportion of people in each group and the pro-
portion of land they own or operate. For example, while
14% of tenants are People of Color, they operate only 8%
of tenant acreage, meaning they lease and operate smaller
farms. Across non-operating landowners, owner-operators,
and tenants, White and non-Hispanics own more land per
person, with the one exception that POC owner-operators
own more land per person. Again, the patterns underscore
impacts of decades of differences in wealth and land transfer
among people with different racial and ethnic identities.
The pattern is a bit different when examining gender.
While females account for 37% of all non-operating land-
owners, they own 46% of the land meaning they own larger
Table 3 Differences by gender
and race or ethnicity
Sources USDA NASS (2012c), USDA NASS (2014a)
Gender Race or ethnicity Non-operating land-
owner
Owner-operator Tenant
Percent Total
(thousands)
Percent Total
(thousands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Male White 61.3 878 83.1 1629 78.6 116
People of color 1.3 19 3.2 63 8.7 13
Hispanic 1.5 22 5.4 106 5.7 8
Female White 35.8 513 13.0 256 7.8 12
People of color 1.5 22 0.7 14 4.9 7
Hispanic 0.6 9 0.8 15 0.5 0.8
Table 4 Differences by gender
and age
Sources USDA NASS (2012c), USDA NASS (2014a)
Gender Age (years) Non-operating land-
owner
Owner-operator Tenant
Percent Total (thou-
sands)
Percent Total (thou-
sands)
Percent Total
(thou-
sands)
Male Less than 55 13.3 190 31.7 621 52.7 78
55–64 16.7 240 25.4 498 19.5 29
65–74 17.2 246 18.9 371 9.9 15
75 + 15.5 222 10.3 202 5.2 8
Female Less than 55 4.4 63 4.7 92 6.3 9
55–64 8.3 118 3.9 77 2.8 4
65–74 11.8 168 2.8 55 1.9 3
75 + 13.0 185 2.3 45 1.6 2
10 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
plots of land (163 acres per female compared to 115 per
male), perhaps due to women outliving men and inherit-
ing farmland. However, that pattern is reversed signifi-
cantly among owner-operators and tenants. While females
accounted for 14% and 13% of all owner-operators and ten-
ants respectively, they owned and operated only 7% of the
owner-operated and leased land, and their average farm size
was about half that of their male counterparts.
Racial, ethnic andgender differences
infarm‑related income
Lastly we examine demographic differences in relation to
farm-related income generated by non-operating landown-
ers, owner-operators, and tenants. As seen in Table6, White,
non-Hispanics, and males earn more farm-related income
than their POC, Hispanic and female counterparts.
Whites earn the vast majority of farm-related income
and there is little variability between the amount of income
earned by White landowners (98%), White owner-operators
(98%), and White tenants (97%). Per person in each cat-
egory, Whites earn more farm-related income than People
of Color. The amount of farm-related income earned by His-
panics increases from 2% for non-operating landowners, 4%
for owner-operators and 7% for tenants. Again, non-Hispan-
ics earn more per person in each category than Hispanic
people. Lastly, female non-operating landowners earn nearly
40% of all farm related income but female owner-operators
and tenants only earn 3% of all farm related income in their
respective categories. Female non-operating landowners
actually earn more per person than their male counterparts,
but female owner-operators and tenants earn less.
Again we can compare the data in Tableto see if there are
imbalances between the proportion of people in each group
and the proportion of farm-related income they generate. For
Table 5 Differences in farm acreage by race, ethnicity, and gender
Sources USDA NASS (2012c), USDA NASS (2014a)
Non-operating landowner Owner-operator Tenant
Percent Acres owned
(millions)
Average per
landowner
Percent Acres owned
(millions)
Average
farm size
Percent Acres farmed
(millions)
Average
farm size
Race
White 97.8 187 134 93.6 775 411 92.3 80 628
People of color 2.2 4 99 6.4 53 692 7.7 7 333
Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic 98.1 187 134 91.5 757 414 94 78 630
Hispanic 1.9 4 114 4.3 36 295 6 5 544
Gender
Male 54.3 104 115 93.2 771 455 92.4 80 622
Female 45.7 87 163 6.8 56 208 7.6 7 350
Table 6 Differences in income by race/ethnicity
Sources USDA NASS (2012c), USDA NASS (2014a)
Non-operating landowner Owner-operator Tenant
Percent Total (millions) Average per
landowner
Percent Total (millions) Average per
operator-
owner
Percent Total (millions) Average
per tenant
Race
White 98.1 $15,596 $11,213 97.8 $351 $186 97.3 $43 $337
People of color 1.9 $301 $7,191 2.2 $8 $100 2.7 $1 $59
Ethnicity
Non-Hispanic 98.1 $15,595 $11,134 96.1 $34 $188 93.8 $42 $346
Hispanic 1.9 $301 $9,573 3.9 $14 $114 7.2 $3 $336
Gender
Male 61.5 $9,777 $10,895 96.6 $346 $205 97.0 $45 $333
Female 38.5 $6,120 $11,444 3.4 $12 $45 3.0 $1 $70
11Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
example, while People of Color tenants make up 14% of all
tenants, they only earned 3% of all tenant-earned income.
There are not substantial differences between the proportion
of Hispanics in each group and the proportion of Hispanic
earned income. Similarly, the income earned by female non-
operating landowners is proportional to their share of farm-
related income. Alternatively, females accounted for 14%
and 13% of all owner-operators and tenants respectively,
but they only earned around 3% of the farm-related income
in both categories. These comparisons suggest People of
Color tenants and female owner-operators and tenants earn
less than their White and male counterparts. The patterns
in Table6 are very similar to those in Table4, suggesting
acreage and income are closely tied.
Discussion
This paper confirms that the historical legacy of racialized
and gendered capitalism discussed in the literature review
is resulting in ongoing and significant racial, ethnic, and
gendered disparities in farming in the U.S. In the time period
around 2012–2014, White, non-Hispanic males comprise
the vast majority of all landowners, owner-operators, and
tenants. In terms of race, 97% of landowners, 96% of farm
owner-operators, and 86% of tenants are White. Meanwhile,
farmers that identify as African American/Black, Asian,
Native American, or Pacific Islander/Hawaiian make up
about 3% of non-operating landowners, 4% of owner-oper-
ators, and 14% of tenants. Farmers of color were least likely
to be in the more land-secure groups of non-operating land-
owners or operator-owners, and more likely to be in more
vulnerable position of leasing land (though their numbers as
tenant farmers were well below their proportion overall in
the U.S. population). Meanwhile, people of color comprised
about 60% of farm laborers, a very vulnerable position in
farming in the U.S., with notoriously difficult working con-
ditions and low wages.
The disparities in amount of land owned and operated
and farm-related income are even greater. Whites own 98%
and operate 94% of all farmland, and White owners and
operators generate 98% and 97% of all farm-related income,
respectively. In comparison, farmers that identify as Afri-
can American/Black, Asian, Native American, or Pacific
Islander/Hawaiian own just 2% of non-operator-owned agri-
cultural land, 6% of farm owner-operated land, and manage
7% of tenant-operated farmland. They generate about 2% of
all farm-related income earned by non-operator landowners
and operator-owners and just under 3% of all income gen-
erated by tenant farmers. Put another way, White farmers
own bigger farms and generate more income per person,
while People of Color farmers have smaller farms (except-
ing People of Color owner operators, who have larger farms)
and earn less farm-related income compared to their White
counterparts. With fewer assets and legacies of structural
discrimination, People of Color farmers are at a distinct
disadvantage in an era of capitalization and consolidation.
Meanwhile, some Whites, likely those benefitting from dec-
ades of generational inherited wealth and policies upholding
white supremacy, are benefitting greatly from rising land
prices and from opportunities to consolidate.
A similar pattern exists in terms of ethnic disparity.
Among non-operating landowners, about 98% of non-oper-
ating landowners and94% of operator-owners and tenants
were non-Hispanic, meaning that about 2% of non-operat-
ing landowners, and just over 6% of owner-operators and
tenants are Hispanic. Hispanic non-operating landowners,
operator-owners and tenants owned, managedor leased 2%,
4% and 6% of agricultural land, respectively, and generated
2%, 4% and 7% of farm-related income in these respective
categories. Hispanic owner-operators in particular operate
smaller farms and generate less income than their non-His-
panic counterparts. Meanwhile, farm laborers were over 80%
Hispanic. While these farm laborers may be well suited to
becoming farm operators, this does not appear to be happen-
ing in significant numbers.
There are also disparities by gender, though we are unable
to examine how these intersect with race in all categories.
About 63% of non-operating landowners, 86% of farm
operators, and 87% of tenant farmers are male. Put another
way, females comprise 37% of non-operating landowners,
14% of owner-operators, and 12% of tenants. Females own
46% and operate 7% of all farmland, and female owners and
operators generate 48% and 3% of farm income from owned
and operated land respectively. Most of the non-operating
landowners are White, aging women, and likely are inherit-
ing farmland, though they generate less income from that
land than men. Meanwhile female farm operators and ten-
ants manage smaller farms, and earn less income per person
from their farms than their male counterparts.
We can make some general comparisons to history,
though our ability to do so in great detail is constrained by
data limitations discussed in greater detail in the “Limita-
tions” section. First, in terms of non-operating landowners,
today’s trends perpetuate the trends of the past. In other
words, American agriculture has made little progress on
racial, ethnic or gender equity over the past 1000years. First,
we consider landowners. In their analysis of the 1999 Agri-
cultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey, Gilbert
etal. (2002, p.60) concluded that “the most striking finding
is that minorities are truly in the minority.” In 1999, less than
4% of agricultural landowners were People of Color, and
they held only 2% of agricultural land, and 3% of its value,
similar numbers to the 2014 TOTAL survey. We could not
find an analysis of the 1999 AELOS survey ownership of
agricultural land by gender. The 1999 numbers don’t vary
12 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
widely from 1910, the last time prior to 1999 that a compara-
ble survey was completed (though the specific methods were
different). Wehrwein (1922) noted that in 1910, “colored
farmers” owned only three percent of owner-operated land,
and probably far less of land area operated by tenants.
In terms of operator-owners and tenants, we compare
to the 1920 Census of Agriculture, when People of Color
farmers comprised about 6% of owner-operators, or slightly
less than today, and 41% of tenants, a much higher percent-
age than today and likely high in that era due to the era of
sharecropping. These included about 926 thousand Black or
African American farmers, 17 thousand Native American
farmers, and 7.6 thousand Asian farmers. Notably and like
today, People of Color farmers were much more likely to be
tenants (except Native Americans, who were more likely
to be owners), and even in that class experienced dispar-
ity. The 1920 Census of Agriculture noted, “The young
White farmer, in that section, starting as tenant, moves into
the more permanent classes of ownership than the young
colored farmer.” (Department of Commerce Bureau of the
Census 1922, p.351). Altogether, People of Color farmers
owned 4.7% of the land and 3.8% of the value of farmland
and improvements- a similar trend to today’s racial dispari-
ties in land and farm-related wealth. Meanwhile, in the 1920
Census of Agriculture, the first to disaggregate by gender,
females comprised 4.1% of owner-operators, owned 3% of
land, and had 2% of the land’s value. Females comprised 3%
of tenants and leased 1.3% of land. Today, females comprise
a greater percentage of owner-operators and tenants. They
continue to have a lower proportion of the land and farming-
related wealth.
Limitations
This article provides a unique nation-wide analysis of racial,
ethnic and gender disparities in farming in the US in about
2012–2014. The analysis was constrained by limitations,
including its brevity, so we were not able to discuss all cases
of discrimination. For example, our literature review did
not discuss the unique ways in which Alaskan and Hawai-
ian natives have experienced structural discrimination in
farming.
Many of the limitations are from the source data. Below
we highlight some of the most important limitations, which
include our inability to do beyond a national-level analysis
of individually-owned farmland, to complete an in-depth
intersectional analysis, or to make historical comparisons.
First, we are limited mainly to a national-level analy-
sis of individually-owned farmland and farms based on
the data sources we used. TOTAL data is available only
at the national and regional level, or at the state level for
25 states only. We shared high-level regional findings on
non-operating landowners. County and state-level data about
the race, ethnicity and gender of operators is available for
COA data2 but is not comparable to TOTAL data for the
under-sampled 25 states. In addition, the analysis is lim-
ited to farmland and farms that are owned and operated by
individuals. We could not assign demographic descriptors
to corporations and trusts. The focus on individually owned
land also is a limited Western focus. For some racial and
ethnic groups, for example, access to hunting and fishing
grounds is a more culturally relevant concern than ownership
of farmland (Theriault etal. 2005; Anderson 2016).
A second limitation is that we were limited in our abili-
ties to do a deep intersectional analysis of disparities by
and across race, ethnicity and gender. Both the COA and
TOTAL Survey has constrained race and gender options.
Survey takers are only given six race options (including
‘more than one race’), and two gender options, limiting our
understanding of, for example, non-binary and transgender
farmers. Meanwhile, the publicly accessible TOTAL data
did not provide detailed data on any race except White, so
we had to combine all People of Color races for all analy-
ses looking at non-operating landowners. As such we were
unable to examine, for example, differences among African
American or Black, Asian American, and Pacific Islander
farmers- each of whom had differences experiences through-
out American agricultural history. The TOTAL data also did
not enable analysis by race, ethnicity and gender combined,
so we were unable to examine, for example, Hispanic People
of Color landowners, or Women of Color landowners. The
Census of Agriculture has some more detailed data availabil-
ity regarding race and ethnicity, but likewise limits a deep
intersectional analysis.Another gap in the source data is that
there is no information on other sources of identity-related
privelege and oppression, such as education, family wealth,
lanugage, and citizenship status.
A third limitation is that we are unable to do a substantive
longitudinal analysis, since there is not comparable historic
data. As discussed previously, there is little historical data
on farmland ownership in the U.S., with the 1999 ALEOS
Survey, and a 1910 survey, being the only surveys prior to
2014 that included non-operating landowners. Likewise, we
were limited in our ability to make detailed comparisons to
historic Census of Agriculture data on operator-owners and
tenants, due to a number of changes in sampling and data
collection and historical inaccuracies. Notably, race, ethnic-
ity and gender data have not been collected consistently over
time. The Census of Agriculture did not distinguish between
White and People of Color, or men and women owners, until
2 Both through the Quick Stats data portal and under recent special
tabulations at https ://www.nass.usda.gov/Data_and_Stati stics /Speci
al_Tabul ation s/Compl eted_Tabul ation s/data-lab-recor ds.php.
13Racial, ethnic andgender inequities infarmland ownership andfarming intheU.S.
1 3
around 1900 (Reynolds 2002). In the early 1900s, data on
Black farmers and Native American farmers were disaggre-
gated for the first time (Mata 2013). All other People of
Colors were generally lumped into the same category. Native
Hawaiians were not clearly documented until the 1978 Cen-
sus of Agriculture (Mata 2013). In addition, the USDA has
changed the definition of farm multiple times. The defini-
tion used in the 2012 Census of Agriculture of farm is “any
place from which $1000 or more of agricultural products
were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold,
during the reference year”. The $1000-a-year threshold was
low when it was set in 1975 and has not been adjusted for
inflation, therefore the total number of farms counted by
the USDA possibly over-counts hobby farmers, subsistence
or education farms as commercial farms (Rosenberg 2017;
Koerth-Baker 2016). This change may have falsely inflated
the counts of people of color, Hispanic, and female farmers
compared to past censuses since, as we have discussed, they
are more likely to own and operate smaller farms. On the
other hand, minority operators may be less likely to complete
federal surveys. Spot checks in the states of Georgia, North
Carolina, and Mississippi have suggested that the Census
historically undercounted Black farmers and Black-owned
farmland (Gilbert etal. 2001; Rosenberg 2017).Another
definition-related change is that the COA previously counted
all farms within each Native American reservation as a sin-
gle farm, which led to severe undercounts.An example of
another change making historical comparisons difficult is
that in the 2012 Census, Native Americans who operate
farmland on an American Indian Reservation are defined as
tenants, also a change from past practice in which they were
declared owner-operators.
Yet another source of challenge in comparing to the past
are “false trends.” Since replacing the Census Bureau as the
administrator of the COA in 1997, the National Agricultural
Statistics Service has made changes to improve the survey’s
accuracy in recent years (Gilbert etal. 2002). Notably, the
department has implemented outreach programs and meth-
odological changes, which improved survey participation by
small-scale, minority, women, and young farmers. Gilbert
etal. (2002, p.5) argue that this improved accuracy created
a “false trend”, in which for example the number of black
farmers appeared to stabilize or even increase, although the
actual number likely decreased in the 1990s. Despite the
USDAs thorough attempt in counting and accounting for
all operators and landowners, the Census of Agriculture’s
response rate of 80% and the TOTAL surveys response rate
for non-operating landowners of 63.7% creates additional
limits to fully assessing the status of the country’s agricul-
tural owners and workers.
A final limitation is in regard to data on farmworkers. The
National Agricultural Worker Survey is the only source of
demographic data on farmworkers, but it is only a limited
employer-based (rather than household-based) survey, and
certainly has coverage errors including people who do not
want to or cannot participate. There is disagreement about
the overall number of farmworkers in the United States.
They do not operate their land, so we did not make land
-related comparisons to, for example, owner-operators. Also,
their wages tend to be seasonal and appear to vary widely
without systematic and reliable reporting, so we did not
compare their earnings to income from the farmers in the
other categories.
Conclusion
This article traced a long history of structural discrimina-
tion in U.S. agriculture to show how the history continues to
impact farmers today. We used data from the 2014 TOTAL
Survey, 2012 Census of Agriculture and the 2013–2014
National Agricultural Worker Survey to examine current
race, ethnicity, and gender-based disparities in farming in
the U.S. Unlike other analyses on farming, we pay explicit
attention to different categories of farmers that have differ-
ing levels of land security and power. While our results are
not directly comparable to past studies, we conclude that
race, ethnic and gender-based disparities are remarkably
unchanged from the past. This finding is both unsurprising,
after tracing the history of racial, ethnic and gender-based
capitalism that has been at the heart of American agricul-
ture, but it is nonetheless alarming for those who prioritize
values of social equity and food justice. Farmland ownership
and management remains an overwhelmingly White profes-
sion, while farm labor is heavily non-White/Hispanic and
exploited. Significant ethnic and gender-based disparities
persist as well. Notably, non-Hispanic and male non-oper-
ating landowners, owner operators, and tenants have more
land and make more farm-related income per person than
their Hispanic and female counterparts.
We argue that the demographics of farming and farmland
ownership merit further attention from United States Depart-
ment of Agriculture leaders and staff, including the staff of
NASS that develop surveys and write reports and staff at
its state and local public-facing offices, staff at state-level
agencies or departments of agriculture, scholars of critical
food studies and race, ethnicity and gender studies, research-
focused organizations, and from food systems as well as civil
right and social justice activists and organizations. Our paper
points out some important limitations to our analysis, due
to shortcomings in available data. To enable future research
in these areas, we identify the need for better demographic
data on farmland owners, farm operators, and farm laborers.
The USDA should publicly share data on the demographics,
including race, ethnicity, gender, and age, of all the catego-
ries of farmers examined in this paper, summarized in easily
14 M.Horst, A.Marion
1 3
accessible reports and in raw data down to the county-level
where possible for researchers to further analyze. Survey
data should also enable intersectional analysis across race,
ethnicity and gender, at national, regional state and county-
levels, and also including characteristics not addressed in
this paper, such as socioeconomic class and citizenshipsta-
tus. We also urge collection of more detailed demographic
data following emerging best practices, for example includ-
ing of farmers identifying as non-binary in terms of their
gender. Another key improvement would be to regularly
survey farmland owners and farmworkers, as farm operators
are surveyed in the Census of Agriculture every 5years, to
enable monitoring and longitudinal analysis. We also urge
state and county-level data collection of data on farmland
owners, operators, and laborers, to enable comparisons by
different geographies.
Future scholarship can expand upon our work by exam-
ining one of the groups discussed in this paper, e.g. Native
American/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black/African American,
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and Hispanic/Latino and
women, or one of the issues addressed in this paper, e.g.
representation, acres of land, and income, in greater depth
and with attention to in-group differences. If data can be
obtained, it would also be useful to examine the issue of
race, ethnicity, and gender-based disparity at finer-grained
scale and/or using an intersectional lens. One example area
of a research gap is that of the experiences of white women
compared to women of color.
In addition, we highlight the need for intervention to
confront the legacies of racialized and gendered capital-
ism and patriarchal white supremacy in U.S. agriculture.
While recent efforts by the USDA to better serve minority
and female farmers are a step, more can and should be done
by a wide range of governmental, for-profit, non-profit and
individual actors to improve racial, ethnic and gender equity
in farmland ownership and operatorship. Our paper adds to
previous calls for the so-called alternative food movement
to center racial, ethnic, and gender equity in its efforts to
support small and medium-scale direct market farming and
local food systems (Slocum 2006; Allen 2010; Alkon and
Agyeman 2011; Mares and Peña 2011; Minkoff-Zern 2016;
White 2018). This paper suggests that one step towards
greater equity in farming is to atone for past legacies of
dispossession, violence, and exclusion, perhaps in the form
of land and wealth-based reparations. Another area of stra-
tegic intervention suggested by the findings in this paper
is to offer greater support for minority-led, small-scale and
direct-market farmers, rather than pushing for further con-
solidation and industrialization. A third category of action
is to offer direct support in terms of farm management and
succession planning to women who have inherited farmland
from their deceased partners. A fourth category of action is
to improve the working conditions and career pathways for
farm laborers into farm ownership. A final category of action
is in fostering non-capitalist forms of farmland ownership,
which removes land from the private for-profit land market
and instead, implements some form of community steward-
ship. Many organizations across the U.S, from the historic
Freedom Farms Cooperative (White 2018) to the currently
active Federation of Southern Cooperatives (Gilbert etal.
2001), have achieved gains towards these goals even against
the stacked odds described in this paper, and researchers can
help assess their efforts and develop best practices.
While this article has focused on the experiences of his-
torically marginalized farmers, we also acknowledge that
many White, non-Hispanic, and/or male farmers are also
struggling in the current era of consolidation and industri-
alization, global competition, and downward pressure on the
prices paid to farmers. For farming to be a viable pathway,
and even a possible form of liberation for racial and ethnic
minorities and for women, it must be a viable pathway for
all small-scale and mid-sized farmers in the U.S., a goal
that will require systemic change and a reverse in past dec-
ades of federal and international policy and pressure from
agri-business corporations. Future activist scholarship can
help identify emerging best practices and evaluate which
interventions are most beneficial particularly for historically
marginalized groups.
Acknowledgements Thank you to anonymous reviewers for their com-
ments, which have helped strengthen the article immeasurably. Thank
you to people who gave feedback on early presentations of the findings,
and to those who asked critical questions. Thank you to the activists
who have expressed interest in the findings and motivated us to com-
plete the analysis. Thank you to USDA staff at the Pacific Northwest
office for attempting to provide us additional data and access to more
detailed data.
Compliance with ethical standards
Conflict of interest There are no financial or other conflicts of interest.
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Megan Horst is an assistant professor in the Toulan School of Urban
Studies at Portland State University. Dr. Horst’s research expertise
areas include land use planning and food justice. She co-directs the
Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Food Systems.
Amy Marion is pursuing a Masters of Urban Studies degree at Portland
State University. Ms. Marion is a researcher at Appalachian Sustainable
Agriculture Project.
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Climate change is projected to transform agricultural systems around the globe. Though climate strongly influences where and how farmers cultivate, millennia of agricultural innovation have expanded cultivation geographies far beyond what sun, soil, and water alone can support. Evaluating how climate interacts with human activity to shape cultivation possibilities for farmers is vital to understanding the impacts of climate change on agriculture. I assess how climate interacts with agricultural activity to shape the cultivation geographies of six major crops: corn, soy, wheat, cotton, hay and alfalfa. For each crop, I model biophysical suitability, or the probability of a crop’s occurrence given only biophysical conditions, and agricultural suitability, or the probability of a crops occurrence given biophysical conditions as well as agricultural inputs, farm resources, and farm(er) characteristics. Though biophysical conditions strongly shape cultivation geographies, agricultural activity—particularly the use of crop insurance and agricultural inputs—amplifies and expands the cultivation geographies of these major crops, often into regions biophysically unsuited to their cultivation. I project biophysically driven shifts in cultivation geographies to 2100 under low, moderate, and high emissions scenarios and find that these geographies will shift strongly north, with the Corn Belt becoming unsuitable to the cultivation of corn by 2100. These results indicate that significant agricultural adaptation will be necessary and inevitable in the Central and Eastern U.S.
... Agricultural work in the USA was founded upon exploitative, dehumanizing mechanisms meant to reinforce white supremacy and prevent upward mobility of people of color. From the abhorrent use of African slave labor on Southern plantations and the subsequent practice of sharecropping and indentured servitude to the exploitation of Asian immigrants to do low-wage farm work along the West coast, racist agrarian structures are as old as modern agriculture itself [9,10]. ...
... Just as chemical-intensive agriculture was becoming commonplace in the mid-twentieth century, the Bracero Program was implemented in the USA to facilitate the use of low-paying Mexican immigrant labor to fill agricultural positions left vacant during World War II [9,11]. This further perpetuated a racial caste system in which wealthy, mostly white landowners profited from physically demanding, dangerous work done by people of color. ...
... The average annual income for a farmworker is less than $20,000 a year and one third of farmworkers had family incomes below the federal poverty line [13]. Upward mobility in agriculture is essentially nonexistent, as federal policies and racist lending practices have largely been responsible for 98 and 94% of all U.S. farmland being owned or operated by whites, respectively [9]. All these policies combined have all but ensured that BIPOC and people of low-income or wealth working in agriculture will consistently be the ones that bear the brunt of pesticide exposure in the fields. ...
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Many environmental pollutants are known to have disproportionate effects on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) as well as communities of low-income and wealth. The reasons for these disproportionate effects are complex and involve hundreds of years of systematic oppression kept in place through structural racism and classism in the USA. Here we analyze the available literature and existing datasets to determine the extent to which disparities in exposure and harm exist for one of the most widespread pollutants in the world – pesticides. Our objective was to identify and discuss not only the historical injustices that have led to these disparities, but also the current laws, policies and regulatory practices that perpetuate them to this day with the ultimate goal of proposing achievable solutions. Disparities in exposures and harms from pesticides are widespread, impacting BIPOC and low-income communities in both rural and urban settings and occurring throughout the entire lifecycle of the pesticide from production to end-use. These disparities are being perpetuated by current laws and regulations through 1) a pesticide safety double standard, 2) inadequate worker protections, and 3) export of dangerous pesticides to developing countries. Racial, ethnic and income disparities are also maintained through policies and regulatory practices that 4) fail to implement environmental justice Executive Orders, 5) fail to account for unintended pesticide use or provide adequate training and support, 6) fail to effectively monitor and follow-up with vulnerable communities post-approval, and 7) fail to implement essential protections for children. Here we’ve identified federal laws, regulations, policies, and practices that allow for disparities in pesticide exposure and harm to remain entrenched in everyday life for environmental justice communities. This is not simply a pesticides issue, but a broader public health and civil rights issue. The true fix is to shift the USA to a more just system based on the Precautionary Principle to prevent harmful pollution exposure to everyone, regardless of skin tone or income. However, there are actions that can be taken within our existing framework in the short term to make our unjust regulatory system work better for everyone.
... Investigative journalism by Rosenberg and Stucki (2019) further reveals that the USDA used misleading data to portray a Black farm renaissance and to suggest that racial inequity in US agriculture was entirely in the past. Thus, important questions remain about equity in USDA disproportionately wealthy and white males (Horst and Marion 2019). At the same time, the program's efforts to protect productive land supports the twin goal of ensuring continued capital accumulation from the agricultural sector, while limiting the advancement of secondary goals which might threaten such accumulation. ...
... As an arm of the racial state 5 (Goldberg 2002;Kurtz 2009), the USDA has the dual role of facilitating (racialized) capital accumulation while at the same time maintaining its own legitimacy as promoter and protector of 'the people' (Knobloch 1996). As with many institutions of the racial state, the USDA has often navigated this dual imperative by asserting capital accumulation as a universal good and by narrowly defining 'the public' (Horst and Marion 2019;Van Sant 2018). If we understand the racial state as a site of class struggle, challenges to USDA legitimacy based on its history of racial discrimination potentially put the USDA in the position of having to limit accumulation. ...
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... Table 1 shows that presently, 36% of all producers are female (USDA 2019). While females account for 37% of all nonoperating landowners (agricultural landowners that do not farm their own land), they own 46% of the land-meaning they own larger plots of land (163 acres per female compared to 115 per male) and generate 48% of farm income (Horst and Marion 2019). Yet the USDA has continued to propagate a type of hegemonic masculinity constricted on the notion of individualized white males feeding a hungry planet; a notion that doesn't fit with the attributes needed to make way for As the data above suggests, although women generate about half of all farm income in the US compared with their male counterparts, they participate less in government-sponsored (chiefly USDA) agricultural conservation programs, and are not likely to adopt conservation practices more generally (Druschke and Secchi 2014;Wells and Eells 2011). ...
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In the field of public administration, a feminist appraisal of Weber's bureaucracy has transpired gradually. In this article, we examine the gender ramifications of Weberian bureaucracy, with a specific focus on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Using the feminist critique of the field at large, and the framework of bureau men and settlement women in particular, we critically analyze Weber's ideas of an ideal bureaucracy. Our central contribution is intermeshing Stiver's critical perspectives with the theoretical frames of feminist phenomenology and feminist standpoint theory to craft a feminist model for appraising the agricultural bureaucracy in the United States. In doing so, we demonstrate how women farmers' and landowners' approach to agriculture and farm management is fundamentally different in values and orientation than the USDA's Weberian bureaucratic approach which dictates the design and implementation of agricultural policy.
... Intersectionality: A concept first developed to describe how different social constructs might overlap and intersect (Crenshaw, 1991), intersectionality in the food system explores how inequality and injustice are tied together across race, class, and gender categories (Collins, 2015;Horst & Marion, 2019;Smith, 2019). The case of two women restaurant owners-one white, one BIPOC-can serve as an illustrative example. ...
Technical Report
This project focuses on North Carolina and contextualizes the current moment against the historical landscape. The audience for this project is philanthropy. As a group with substantial power, it asks how philanthropy can be a partner to address some of the most entrenched inequities. How, in other words, can philanthropy help create more equity and resiliency in the North Carolina food system?
... Sixty-nine percent of U.S. agricultural land is owned by NOLs over the age of 65 (Bigelow et al., 2016). Using the 2014 TOTAL data, Horst and Marion (2019) find that female women landowners (WNOLs) tend to be disproportionately older, while male NOLs are more dispersed by age. They document that 97% of agricultural NOLs in the U.S. are white and 98% are non-Hispanic. ...
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Based on prodigious research, this book chronicles the activities of the thousands of Chinese agricultural pioneers and entrepreneurs who helped make California the nation's premier agricultural state.