Last month, more than one thousand people in food and agriculture from 48 states took part of their busy Friday to join a webinar on how our industry can improve on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The live event was the best-attended webinar ever held by Agri-Pulse. Watch the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Agriculture: Ideas for Improvement” webinar here.

Viewers included policymakers from the Congress, USDA, and state agricultural agencies, and, perhaps most importantly, farmers from the fields of America’s heartland.

I would submit that the level of attendance for the webinar not only demonstrates recognition of the challenge ahead of us but also our larger community’s interest in developing solutions.

Since joining the Corn Refiners Association in 2013, I have been impressed by our members’ efforts to advance these matters. Consider, for example, Cargill’s impressive Black Farmer Equity Initiative. We also recognize Tate & Lyle’s success over the last six years increasing the proportion of women in the company as a whole by 29% and in the most senior positions by 44%. We are equally impressed by the good work of ADM’s supplier diversity program. And we join in the congratulations to Ingredion, which earned a near-perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2021 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) in January.

Then came the shocking events of last summer, which brought a fresh focus on DEI and precipitated discussions within our staff that helped me realize that our own good intentions at CRA are not enough. There is much I simply did not realize and more I hope we all can learn by continuing to engage on these important matters. As part of our recent CRA’s values statement, we have empowered our staff to be “action oriented in furthering our values … empowered to speak and act on informed, collaborative and thoughtful decisions” — like the webinar.

The leading complaint about the webinar was that it should have run longer. So, we will try to keep the dialogue going, starting with questions that time did not permit our speakers to address. If you did not ask a question, but would like to, contact us through the portal at the diversity and inclusion page and we will consider it. We plan to post the results of that Q&A to our diversity and inclusion page and across our social media channels.

If you would like to receive the Q&A or be alerted to additional developments that we host on these issues, share your email address with us through that page as well.

We’re taking these steps because we recognize and believe that advancing diversity, equity and inclusion is not a one-time, check-the-box project. Our industry — in fact, all industries — benefit from listening to, involving, partnering with and employing people who bring a wide diversity of backgrounds and perspectives.

We strongly suspect that you may have even better ideas for next steps to advance this essential effort, and we believe the best ideas should rise to the top. As our Chairman, Jim Stutelberg, noted during the webinar, “listening and learning” are another key part of CRA’s values statement. So, please share your ideas for how we might advance diversity, equity and inclusion in agriculture and related industries with a note at our portal. We want to hear about your efforts, your best practices and your successes, so that we all may continue to learn.

We are also planning an additional webinar in the fall with students as the target audience. After all, today’s students are the future of agriculture and related industries. We believe one important way to address diversity, equity and inclusion is to understand the views of young people and remove barriers to entry that they face. We envision a two-way communication in which we both learn how to make our agriculture-related industries more welcoming and how to inform students that we are striving to do so. 

Finally, we owe deep gratitude to the wonderful and diverse speakers who took the time to participate in the first webinar.

Their thoughts and viewpoints were crucial to the event’s success.

P.J. Haynie III, an active farmer and the Chairman of the National Black Growers' Council said during that discussion, "When we look at equity and justice we need to make sure everyone along the chain knows it is important to be inclusive, to treat people fair, and to make sure there's opportunity for all farmers."

We agree and we hope to continue to work with all of our speakers and other leaders as we, as an industry, continue to strive for progress across these essential matters. We understand this will be a long journey, but we have excellent company. Thank you for being part of the effort.

John Bode is President & CEO of the Corn Refiners Association.

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