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Food for Thought: Sustaining Diversity in Agriculture

Bill Bridgeforth is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

Bill Bridgeforth

Bill Bridgeforth is being honored as a Future of American Agriculture Champion of Change.

I’m grateful to the Obama Administration for implementing the Champion of Change Award to recognize the hard work and sacrifices of so many everyday people who have dedicated their lives to making a positive difference in their communities. My passion is maintaining diversity in American agriculture.

I am one of 13, eight boys and five girls, raised on the family farm. I have vivid memories of working for Papa (Grandfather), chopping cotton, picking cotton, and mowing grass. At the age of 12, I knew I wanted to be a farmer. Mother (Elizabeth), who passed away when I was 15, Daddy (Darden), and Willie (my stepmother), all exemplified the proper work ethic and contributed to my confidence to become a leader.

If there has ever been a segment of agriculture that should be on the endangered species list, it is for sure the black farmer. As of 2007, black farmers made up 1.3 percent of the farming community, with an average age of 60.3. The average farm operator in the United States managed 418 acres while the average black farm operator managed 104 acres. Black farmers are typically underrepresented at the local USDA Farm Service Center both when it comes to program enrollment and program utilization. The National Black Growers Council (NBGC) was organized to be a resource for USDA and agricultural corporations desiring to network and gain insight on how their policies and programs impact the black row-crop farmer.

The National Black Growers Council advocates for black row-crop producers while encouraging diversity. The NBGC hosts several Model Farm Tours in various locations. On the Model Farm Tour a member of the NBGC invites the public to his or her farm to demonstrate precision agriculture, biotechnology, and how the participation in USDA programs all work together in building a successful business.  The Model Farm Tour also serves as a forum the Extension Service to review the more basic aspects of crop production such as pest control, fertilization, and seed selection.  Most farm tours will include a variety trial to demonstrate new technology for pest management and yield enhancement. Irrigation, crop insurance, and grain storage are also discussed.   

Internationally, the NBGC has consulted with emerging farms in Africa. Our task is to help emerging farmers become commercial farmers by embracing proven and safe technology used in the United States. Representatives of the council have traveled to South Africa, Kenya, and Gambia to observe local agriculture. We have had the privilege of collaborating with International Services Council of Alabama to host African agribusiness men and women at Bridgeforth Farms. 

All this matters because agriculture matters.  I am passionate about leaving a legacy for future generations and helping to be part of its bright future.

Bill Bridgeforth is a Senior Partner at Darden Bridgeforth and Sons; he is Chairman of the National Black Growers Council, and a member of Alabama A&M University’s Agriculture. Advisory Board. Also, Bill is on the Executive Board of the Council of Agricultural Research, Technology, Extension, and Teaching (CARET).