The last five months I’ve been getting to know an underreported segment of the Nebraska population: the state’s many Latino communities.
I’ve toured a massive Tyson beef packing plant in Lexington, Neb. I’ve talked with some of the plant’s supervisors and its hourly workers. I’ve talked with their kids, many of whom are part of the high school’s Future Farmers of America organization. I chatted with Efrain Hernandez, a farmer just outside of Lincoln, who saved enough money from his day job to move his urban farm onto two acres of land on the outskirts of town. I was out in the Panhandle late last year watching farmer Eleazar Garza bring the last of his sugar beet harvest to the refinery.
All these Nebraskans have agriculture in their blood – even if they’re not landowners. That’s part of what I’m looking at, the role Latinos are playing in this ag-focused state.
The reporting will be a part of Harvest Public Media’s second documentary, due out in May. It’s part of our upcoming Farmer of the Future project.
With rising land prices, a lack of accessible capital and high equipment costs, it’s tough for anyone to get in to farming. A report released this month by the Center for Rural Affairs and the Cambino Center (PDF) found that is especially true for Latino farmers.
Earlier this month, I sat down with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at the National Farmer’s Union convention in Omaha and I asked about what the USDA is doing to help remove the barriers for prospective Latino farmers.
“There’s no single definition of the farmer of the future,” Vilsack told me. “I think what I would say is that the future for farming is optimistic. It’s hopeful. We’re beginning to see competition for crops, which makes prices stable and secure and we’re beginning to see creative new ways to use our agricultural production to meet the fuel needs, the energy needs and the chemical needs of this country.”