WASHINGTON, March 14, 2012- A small survey of Midwestern Latino farmers found that language barriers prevent them from knowing how USDA can play a helpful role in their farming operations. The Center for Rural affairs (CFRA) conducted interviews with Hispanic and Latino farmers in Nebraska and Missouri to determine possible improvements in the relationship between USDA and Latino farmers.
The study released today determined that almost every farmer and rancher interviewed claimed they needed more knowledge and training in agriculture and agricultural processes. CFRA suggested USDA should create more programs focused on basic agricultural training for Latino farmers and ranchers, as well as improve outreach to Latino and Hispanic farmers.
CFRA staff conducted 17 interviews with Latino farmers and ranchers in Nebraska and 30 in Missouri, as well as interviews with USDA personnel from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in both states. Of the 30 farmers interviewed in Missouri, 28 said they did not feel they could have an English conversation with USDA agents.
According to the study, the lack of communication is a two-way street. The surveyors found that USDA had minimal outreach to Latino farmers in Nebraska and Missouri, while Latino farmers had minimal awareness of programs and minimal desire to contact government assistance. This is likely due to cultural and language barriers in addition to barriers “similar to those expressed by all beginning farmers and ranchers – a lack of resources such as land, capital, equipment and knowledge.”
One key way for USDA to expand outreach efforts identified in the study is to develop a “better database or list” of Latino farmers and ranchers.
“Obviously, the current reluctance of Latino farmers and ranchers to come to USDA offices and seek assistance lessens the interaction between USDA and Latino farmers and ranchers,” states CFRA in the survey. “But there are ways to change the current relationship or perceived relationship between USDA and the Latino population. One of the first steps USDA can take is to develop a better idea of who is farming or ranching, where they are living and their needs.”
The CFRA writers suggested more collaboration between USDA and organizations that already successfully interact with the Latino population, such as churches, schools, social service agencies and health care providers.
In addition to these concerns, the small survey sample reported numerous experiences where USDA personnel did not refer the farmer or rancher to the proper office. Others said USDA could not provide basic answers or provide information on where to seek assistance.
“USDA should seek to develop a “no wrong door” intake approach where Latino families unfamiliar with USDA and its programs are referred to the proper USDA office or staff member,” states the study.
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