Ag industry is cultivating diversity and equity

By Melissa Lowery


The world’s population is predicted to reach 10 billion by the year 2050, meaning there will be an additional 3 million mouths to feed. The agricultural industry is already working toward solutions not only to produce more food, but also to do so sustainably. Inclusive sourcing is a key component of the strategic plans laid out by some of the world’s largest agriculture companies.


A commitment to inclusive sourcing

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most recent data available, while the total number of male farmers declined compared to 2012, the number of female producers jumped nearly 27%, from 970,000 to 1.23 million. The industry is also seeing an uptick in minority representation. While the total number of U.S. producers rose by 6.9% between 2012 and 2017, the total number of minority farmers — including Hispanic, American Indian, Black and Asian — increased by 9.6% during the same time span.



The U.S. Department of Agriculture is conducting the latest Cen-sus of Agriculture now, with data available in 2024. Even without this government report, evidence of increased engagement with diverse suppliers throughout the agriculture industry is prevalent.


The agriculture industry is focused on the inclusion of diverse suppliers and small businesses in its supply base. The industry requires strong, nimble and technologically-savvy partners to meet the increasing need for modern agriculture caused by population growth.


Corteva Agriscience is completely dedicated to agriculture. Supplier diversity is part of the company’s inclusion, diversity and equity strategy, also known as ID&E. Corteva’s global supply chain is inclusive, from seed-growers to contract manufacturers, and recently grew from millions in spend to billions in spend with small businesses and diverse suppliers.


“Supplier diversity is a market-shaping behavior,” said Michelle Morin, global procurement leader – supplier diversity & procurement sustainability, Corteva Agriscience. “Our customers feed everyone, so our suppliers should represent everyone. Our economic impact extends beyond our work with suppliers and into the communities where the suppliers’ employees live and work.”


Cargill Inc. is addressing racial inequity through its Black Farmer Equity Initiative. In addition, the corporation has a publicly stated goal of spending $1 billion with minority- and women-owned businesses around the world.


“From our seat at the center of the agriculture supply chain, Cargill has a unique role in connecting farmers and producers, customers and consumers,” said Natalie McGrady, Cargill global supplier diversity lead. “These connections, and our efforts to foster new ones with diverse suppliers, helps make the world’s food system more inclusive, equitable and resilient for all.”


PepsiCo Inc. celebrated 40 years of supplier diversity in 2022, noting that since the program’s inception in 1982, the company has spent nearly $30 billion with diverse suppliers.


“As one of the leading convenience food and beverage companies in the U.S., we have a responsibility to leverage our size and reach to help address the systemic barriers that too often limit or exclude diverse suppliers from developing and expanding their businesses,” said Melani Wilson Smith, PepsiCo’s global chief procurement officer. “We’ve been on this journey for decades and we are committed to growing with our diverse suppliers and procuring new ones. Working with diverse-owned businesses is one of the more important ways we can help build a more inclusive supply chain which, in turn, strengthens the communities where we operate and yields greater value for our consumers and customers.”


Kellogg Co. has a long history of partnering with diverse suppliers for the ingredients that make some of America’s favorite foods.


Knappen Milling Co., the only certified woman-owned and -operated flour mill and wheat processing plant in the United States, has been providing Kellogg Co. with flour for its food, such as Kellogg’s® Raisin Bran® and Eggo® Waffles, since 1929.


“Partnering with diverse suppliers is an essential component of our Better Days® Promise strategy. It reflects our consumer base to help us fully understand and serve our consumers,” said Debra Quade, manager of supplier diversity, Kellogg Co. “By opening up to a diverse pool of businesses, we are able to create jobs in historically underutilized communities, as well as design more innovative and unique foods.”


Supporting diverse growers and suppliers around the world

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, food and related industries contributed $1.264 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product in 2021, a 5.4% share. Output from America’s farms contributed $164.7 billion of this sum — about 0.7% of GDP, marking both a rebound after a dip in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an increase over the previous high in 2019. 


Agriculture is also responsible for a significant number of jobs. The USDA reports that in 2021, 21.1 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors —10.5% of total U.S. employment. Direct on-farm employment accounted for about 2.6 million of these jobs, or 1.3% of U.S. employment.


In the U.S., farming is largely a family enterprise. The USDA reported that of the 2 million farms coast-to-coast, 98% are operated by families — individuals, family partnerships or family corporations.


Corteva’s Morin said supporting farmers — especially small or diverse farmers — has extra significance because it means supporting families and communities as well.


“Diverse suppliers are innovative partners, and the return on inclusion reaches beyond Corteva into the communities where these businesses are headquartered.” she said. Investing in diverse suppliers that provide innovative solutions and quality products is also part of Kellogg’s inclusive strategy for the future.


In 2022, Kellogg piloted InGrained™ with Kennedy Rice Mill, LLC, a woman-owned rice company run by the Kennedy sisters of 4Sisters Rice. This program partners with Lower Mississippi River Basin rice farmers to implement climate-positive irrigation practices to reduce the impact rice farming can have on the planet.


Kennedy Rice provides the rice used in some of Kellogg’s most iconic foods, like Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies cereal and Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies Treats®. Working with woman-owned suppliers — including those who grow the ingredients for their foods — is built into the company’s culture.


In partnership with WEConnect International Inc., Cargill recently expanded its supplier diversity efforts to countries like Brazil, reflecting the diverse communities where it operates.


“We look forward to continuing to grow our network of diverse supplier partners around the world, especially minority and women-owned suppliers. When we partner with suppliers that offer the perspectives of different genders, sexual orientations, races and physical abilities, we build a stronger more sustainable supply chain able to serve the needs of our global customers,” McGrady said.


Like Cargill, PepsiCo has existing partnerships with organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. and the National Black Growers Council. These partnerships have advanced PepsiCo’s efforts to create opportunities for diverse businesses, deepen their relationships and identify potential new partners. The company has nearly doubled its spend among Black growers within the agriculture segment and continues to mentor growers on expanding their acreage and capacity available to purchase.


“As farmers in underserved communities, we typically find ourselves isolated and concentrated,” said P.J. Haynie III, a fifth-generation farmer from Virginia and board chairman of the NBGC. “Having relationships and mentors and knowing you can call another grower to share information that will help your operation — whether they’re 100 or 1,000 miles away — is a priceless tool in our toolbox. Companies like PepsiCo understand that.”


As the global population increases, the agricultural industry is turning to diverse suppliers for innovative, sustainable solutions to feed the world.


“The agriculture industry is uniquely dynamic,” said Tamra Pawloski, senior director, leveraged procurement, and head of corporate real estate at Corteva Agriscience. “I find that diverse suppliers and small businesses are valuable partners in meeting the challenges we see. They can bring diversity to our thought process. They are often nimble and able to respond to dynamic market conditions. Together, we are doing the incredibly important work of enabling farmers to feed the world.”



Smart farms

AI helps improve production and provides new prospects for tech vendors


Farming and agriculture entities are being challenged by a growing population, climate change, water-supply demands and labor shortages. Fortunately, artificial intelligence, or AI, is helping to transform the industry as it resolves these issues.


Productivity gains can reshape the nature of farming and agriculture and improve global food supply. For example, climate factors affect yield fluctuations of crops such as maize, rice, soy and spring wheat by as much as 20% to 49%. AI tools, such as predictive analytics on weather patterns, can help minimize crop losses around the world.


Thanks in part to AI, farm and agriculture output is projected to grow from $1.7 billion in 2023 to $4.7 billion in 2028. Development of AI in applications, such as drone analytics, precision farming and agricultural robots will create growth opportunities for the market and bring new streams of revenue for tech vendors.


Data analytics and machine learning-enabled solutions are being adopted by agricultural organizations and farmers to enhance farm productivity and gain a competitive edge in business operations by:

• Controlling weeds

• Assisting with crop harvests

• Determining packaging

• Diagnosing pests and soil defects

• Monitoring crop and livestock health

• Controlling self-driving tractors

• Predicting weather, pests and diseases


Agriculture minority farmers U.S. Department of Agriculture Corteva Agriscience Michelle Morin Cargill Inc. Natalie McGrady PepsiCo Inc Melani Wilson Smith Kellogg Co. Knappen Milling Co Raisin Bran® Eggo® Better Days® Promise Debra Quade United States Department of Agriculture Kennedy Rice Mill LLC 4Sisters Rice Kellogg’s® Rice Krispies WEConnect International Inc. National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. National Black Growers Council P.J. Haynie III Tamra Pawloski

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