Posted by Cecilia Hernandez, Designated Federal Officer, USDA Equity Commission in
Aug 28, 2023
Agriculture reigns as one of the most sustainable industries with constant innovations despite the ever-changing environment of macroeconomic trends, climate variability, disrupted supply chains, and more. For U.S. Department of Agriculture Equity Commission Member Ron Rainey who was raised on his father’s small cattle farm and timber business, his interest in the economics of agriculture has increasingly grown with the changing tides of the sector.
“A lot of people see agriculture as cows and plows, but with the new technology and modernizations of today, food production can be anything you want it to be,” Rainey said. “You can get your hands in the soil, which is something that I love and try to do, or you can work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields that support the full life cycle of farm to table. We must ensure these opportunities are made accessible for anyone who has an interest. At the same time, we must continue to engage younger people in agriculture, cultivate them, and educate them so they will be interested in the industry.”
Inspired by his upbringing, Rainey developed a particular interest in marketing strategies and the business of farming where he continued to become an agricultural extension economist, working within Arkansas’ land grant system. From being engaged directly with technical assistance outreach to learning the ins and outs of the best organizational management practices, Rainey has set out to improve the financial outcomes for farmers and ranchers. His work has focused on enhancing farm and ranch value-added entrepreneurship, risk management, and marketing, and he brings this expertise to the Equity Commission.
“It’s important to examine the Research and Extension programs and consider how USDA can conduct outreach so that all communities can benefit from public investments,” Rainey says. For example, the Partnerships for Risk Management Education program, authorized by USDA, provides grants for risk mitigation education to agricultural producers. Opportunities such as this, made possible through extension programs, can improve outcomes for farmers by providing, resources and instruction where there is none. “Our [Equity Commission] recommendations related to research and extension programs can impact the next generation of diverse agricultural constituencies by ensuring access to such programs are shared equitably. This means widespread success for future customers of USDA.”
Beyond raising awareness and seeking opportunities to expand access for extension programs, Rainey also seeks to increase collaboration among local organizations to further access technical assistance in socially disadvantaged communities. “In looking at community-based organizations, collaboration is crucial for the community. It takes relationship-building to get into underserved communities so that we can deliver information on today’s technology, and best practices” Rainey says. He also calls on minority-serving institutions as an avenue to reach more people in need. “If we can call on non-land-grant serving institutions that have a unique role in our neighborhoods to engage with all agriculture stakeholders, we can really leverage and build out those entities to better serve agricultural and rural America.”
This desire to reach more people stems from his personal experience in seeing where agriculture can take you. With growing research of the agriculture industry, Rainey is hopeful the future of farming will be more reflective of the expansive and diverse people who keep it operating. In his current role as Assistant Vice President with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, Rainey interacts with many young people who are curious about a career in food production. “I often tell students that as long as people have to eat, there will continue to be an agriculture sector, so I encourage them to explore the different opportunities that agriculture provides.”
Rainey takes this interest from young people into consideration on the Equity Commission as he hopes to expand access to programs and services that can provide a fulfilling future to new and beginner farmers, farmworkers, and other workers within the sector. “Equity means giving equal access to all. On this Commission, we recognize that USDA touches all of America and that inequitable practices can result in a greater wealth disparity for underserved communities,” Rainey says. “When we remove barriers and improve access to what the Department offers so that people from all backgrounds can utilize its programs and services, we minimize differential impacts and improve financial outcomes.”
The Equity Commission’s Interim Report is available in both English (PDF, 1.2 MB) and Spanish (PDF, 1.3 MB). The Final Report will be released in Fiscal Year 2024.