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Texas NRCS Recruits at Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum

story by Melissa Blair

More than 115 students, teachers, academia and agbusiness leaders attended the second annual Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum in Oct. in San Antonio. The theme “Growing a Better Future for Agriculture” was evident throughout the conference as presenters spoke about the opportunities for recruiting the growing Hispanic and Latino talent into agriculture. This year 40 college students from 14 states and several Latin American countries attended on scholarships made possible by event sponsors’ contributions. They were able to network and learn about opportunities to further their education and careers in agriculture. 

The Texas U.S. Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) was one of the sponsors of the three-day leadership forum and also provided assistance on the USDA 150th Celebration held the first night of the meeting. 

The forum kicked off with a welcome from sponsors and co-founders of the event, Orlando Gil, president, TCTS Global, LLC and Dr. Edward W. Romero, founder and manager, AgForLife, LLC.  

“Given the rapidly changing demographics and the low numbers of Hispanic students entering agriculture, it is time to explore ways to address this crisis, said Dr. Romero. “Statistics for minority students enrolling in agriculture is alarming. We must do better in reaching out to underrepresented groups. Hispanics will impact the future of our society and will have the potential to impact Agriculture. We must do a better job of educating and informing Latinos of the opportunities afforded to them in Agriculture in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.”

The Growing Facts:

  • Hispanic population is projected to grow significantly over the next 10 years and into the future. In just three decades, Hispanics are projected to reach 73 million or about 20.1% of the entire US population. By 2050, Hispanics will account for over 30% of the total population in the United States. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  • Economically, Hispanics are the fastest growing minority group. Latinos will be an economic buying powerhouse in the domestic economy to the tune of almost $1.4 trillion in 2013. According to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia, Hispanics experienced a 349 percent increase in purchasing power from 1990 to 2008, compared to 151 percent increase in purchasing power by all non-Hispanic consumers. The Hispanic buying power will be the fastest growing of all groups in the years to come.
  • Hispanics are also a relatively young group. The 2006 American Community Survey reported the Hispanic population of 18 years old and younger as 33.8% of the total versus a 21.3% for the non-Hispanic white population. Hispanics accounted for a low 5.3% in the 65 and older group as compared to 15.2 % of the non-Hispanic white population. In short, the Hispanic population is very young.
  • However, based on 2008 data from the Food and Agricultural Education Information System (FAEIS), enrollment data for minorities was alarming. There were a total of 251,422 students enrolled in Agricultural related fields with minority students constituting a small percentage. Overall enrollment for Hispanics was 4.5 percent or 11,353 students in 2008. As is evidenced by the FAEIS self-reporting system by colleges and universities, the United States continues to struggle in recruiting students from underrepresented groups into Agriculture, Food, Natural Resources, and Life Sciences.

“We have an emerging demographic that can represent the leaders of tomorrow,” said Gil. “With the age of the average farmer increasing, and individuals starting to retire from Agricultural careers, there is a gap of talent in the future of agriculture and Latinos could potentially fill that gap; increasing the educational pipeline of students studying Agriculture will ensure a pool of present and future employees, consumers, employers and agvocates.”   

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Edward Avalos, keynote address was about the challenges faced by the USDA and the opportunities it presents to be more efficient in all areas of operation. 

“We have roots across all countries with different cultures, customs and backgrounds, but we are united as one, walking as one to build a better future for our nation,” said Avalos as he highlighted facts about the growing Hispanic/Latino population and how USDA agencies and programs are diversifying and changing to meet the growing Hispanic customer base. He also told attendees that Hispanics make up 7 percent of the USDA workforce, which is up 1 percent from last year and USDA is committed to working on diversity through cultural transformation efforts.

The highlight of  the USDA 150th celebration was the recognition of former U.S. Congressman Eligio “Kika” de la Garza and his wife, Lucille, for their leadership and long time contributions to agriculture by the Latinos in Agriculture. De la Garza served from 1981 to 1994 as chairman of the Agricultural Committee, leading the way in passing bills that reorganized the agricultural lending system, the farm insurance system, the USDA, and pesticide laws. He spoke to attendees about his adventures and lessons learned from his years in south Texas government to Washington D.C. and encouraged the students to follow their dreams.

Master of Ceremonies for the “150-Years of the USDA” celebration, Nancy O’Mallon, CEO of About Harvest, LLC, presented a historical video about at “Kika” de la Garza’s life and political contributions. 

NRCS State Conservationist, Salvador Salinas, spoke about the agency’s career opportunities and cult

A panel including Texas NRCS State Conservationist, Salvador Salinas, spoke to attendees about the retiring federal workforce in coming years and NRCS as a career option. Salinas also talked about where the agency is headed in the future of conservation and streamlining efforts. 

“In 2005, Hispanics accounted for 11.8 percent of our Texas NRCS workforce,” said Salinas. “At the end of fiscal year 2012, Hispanics accounted for 12.89 percent of the Texas NRCS workforce.”

Other panelist included Juan M. Garcia, Administrator, Farm Service Agency, USDA, Washington, D.C.; Carolyn Parker, Director, Office of Advocacy and Outreach, USDA, Washington, D.C.; Paco Valentin, State Director of Rural, Development, USDA, Temple; and Rey Saldaña, City Council District 4, San Antonio. Saldaña presented two City of San Antonio proclamations signed by Mayor, Julian Castro, officially designating October 17-19, 2012 as “Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum Days” and the other to E. “Kika” de la Garza making him honorary mayor of San Antonio. 

The forum included a series of presentations and discussion panels related to changing the perceptions of agriculture and increasing the number of Hispanic students ready for the agricultural workforce of the future. 

Some of the topics discussed were best practices for recruitment and retention, proven methods of recruiting Hispanic students into agriculture, the role college advisors play in building an educational pipeline as well as strategies in promoting Ag Literacy to impact the talent pipeline of the future. In addition, there were presentations related to career opportunities for Hispanics in higher education, as well as utilizing social media to recruit and retain Latino students.

Suggestions for increasing the educational pipeline of Hispanic/Latinos to agricultural education and degrees included introducing them to agriculture at 

Former U.S. Congressman Eligio “Kika” de la Garza; Texas NRCS State Outreach Coordinator, Bertha Ven

an early age, mentors/role models in agriculture, internships, engaging and educating parents about importance of education and agriculture in order to have family buy-in for attending college, and most of all support at college to show students they matter.  

Brad Van Auken, former Hallmark’s chief brand advocate, and author of the branding book, Brand Aid, and one of the world’s foremost experts on brand management and marketing spoke about “Branding Careers in Agriculture for Future Generations: Changing perceptions of Agriculture.”

The conference wrapped up with a panel of students from Colorado, Minnesota, and Texas who shared their perspective about what it would take to 

recruit them for higher education and career-wise. Students shared their personal stories about how they became involved in agriculture and what strategies can be considered when recruiting Hispanic students into agriculture. 

The consensus from the students was that college can be overwhelming and Hispanic students get lost in the system so a support system is critical to keeping the student enrolled. As far as job recruitment, suggestions include how the student bilingual skills would be utilized and what is expected of the student on the job. 

The 3-day event was sponsored by AgForLife, LLC and TCTS Global, LLC and media affiliate, About Harvest, LLC.&

Sponsors also included Platinum level sponsor, Farm Credit; Bronze Level Sponsors: Elanco, CHS Foundation, and Capital Farm Credit; Friends Level Sponsors: USDA – Natural Resource Conservation Service, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Texas Pork Producers, Iowa State University, and USDA – Hispanic Serving Institutions National Program; Support Level Sponsors: Texas Farm Bureau, Iowa Select Farms, USDA – Farm Service Agency, Truffle Media, Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources, St. Edward’s University, and Monsanto.

The 3rd Annual Latinos in Agriculture Leaders Forum will be held Oct. 11-13, 2013 in San Antonio. For more information, visit