The continuing education needs of immigrant farmers

immigrant farmer survey

The following brief summarizes the findings of the report Educational Interests, Needs and Learning Preferences of Immigrant Farmers. To read the full report by agricultural educator Thaddeus MacCamant, click here.

The immigrant population is growing in rural Minnesota, and those who are interested in farming will be replacing a dwindling population of traditionally white farmers. Like traditional American farmers, immigrant farmers have a need for continuing education to keep them up on best practices and new technology in agriculture. Minnesota’s ag educators have a unique opportunity to provide education through programs that already exist but only need some adaptation to fit language and cultural needs.

This brief summarizes the findings of a survey conducted in the fall of 2012 in conjunction with the Center’s survey of continuing education needs for all farmers in Minnesota, examining specifically the needs and preferences of immigrant farmers when it comes to continuing education. Two immigrant groups were invited to take part: Hmong farmers (in some cases the data was broken out between men and women) and Hispanic farmers and those who wanted to become farmers. The Latino Economic Development Center and the Hmong American Farmers Association collected the data.

Immigrant farmer characteristics

Demographics:

  • Like traditional white farmers, Hmong farmers are getting older. The average age for Hmong farmers surveyed was 48, and almost half of them reported farming for more than 20 years. Hispanic farmers had an average age of 41.
  • Hispanics in Minnesota are relatively recent immigrants compared to the Hmong.
  • About half the Hmong respondents had no formal education, but another 40% had completed eighth grade or high school. Nearly all Hispanic respondents had some formal education, with about three fourths completing either eighth grade or high school.

 Farm:

  • Few immigrants own their own land, although rates of land ownership in Minnesota appear to be higher than reported in other states.
  • The majority of Hmong respondents are clustered in the east metro of the Twin Cities, farming between 1 and 10 acres.
  • Hispanic farmers are spread throughout the state, and the majority of the respondents were farming less than one acre in Greater Minnesota.
  • Most Hispanics were farming small plots of land supplied by companies or other organizations. Those cultivating land supplied by an employer were also not paying rent for it.
  • The Hmong respondents reported raising crops that can be sold to Asian, African, and Hispanic communities. They sell primarily at farmers markets around the Twin Cities.
  • Hispanic farmers are more likely to sell to churches, relatives, Mexican stores, and restaurants.
  • Few immigrants reported having livestock, but the survey indicated that many would like to have livestock someday.
  • On the other hand, education programs for immigrant farmers throughout the United States have primarily emphasized vegetable production.

 

Business Management and Crop Production Education Interests and Needs

  • The farmers surveyed showed a diversity of interests. For instance, although the overall data implied little interest in learning about hiring employees, nearly 25% of respondents put “very interested.” In another example, although 41% of the Hmong respondents reported their farms as organic or organic transitional, some farmers expressed an interest in learning how to apply pesticides safely, obtaining a pesticide applicator’s license, and choosing herbicides. Since many immigrant education programs emphasize organic production, teaching about pesticides appears to be an unmet need.

 

Top 5 business management education interests among Hmong farmers.

 

Rank

Raw Score

Identify crops that will be most profitable for Minnesota

1

110

Food safety rules and regulations

2

109

Your rights as a land renter

3

107

How to find rental land

4

106

How to buy land

5

105

 

And among Hispanic farmers.

 

Rank

Raw Score

Identify crops that will be most profitable for Minnesota

1

107

How to price a product

2

104

Food safety rules and regulations

3

103

Develop a yearly plan for selling vegetables and fruit

4

101

How to buy land

4

101

How to apply for loans

4

101

 

Top 5 crop production education interests among Hmong farmers.

 

Rank

Raw score

The soils on your land

1

113

Identify insect pests

1

113

Identify diseases

1

113

Select the best varieties for Minnesota

4

112

Learn the most effective way to apply pesticides

5

111

 

And among Hispanic farmers.

 

Rank

Raw score

Starting plants inside or in the field

1

110

Identify diseases

1

110

Identify insect pests

3

109

Select the best varieties for Minnesota

4

105

Storing and transporting harvested product

5

103

 

Preferences for the Delivery of Education and Training Programs

Educational Information:

  • When immigrants need information about growing crops, they are most likely to ask other farmers or relatives. Hmong farmers also used seed or farm supply companies, while Hispanic farmers were more likely to use the Minnesota Food Alliance or a vegetable specialist.

 

Language:

  • The farmers overwhelmingly preferred instruction in their native language, although a few said they would like instruction in both their language and English, suggesting that any education program that would also reach out to young people would have to be in a mixture of both languages.

 

Education Delivery

“Where would you like the education and training programs to be held?” Hmong and Hispanic responses.

 

Hmong

Hispanic

 

Rank

Score

Rank

Score

At a host farm with similar farmers

1

94

1

76

In a traditional classroom setting

2

91

2

67

At farm organization meetings (MFA, MFVGA, MAGA)

3

82

3

65

 

How do you like to learn about farming?” Hmong responses.

 

Rank

Score

On-farm classes with hands-on activities

1

94

Field trips

2

91

Conferences like the Immigrant Farmers Conference

3

87

 

Hispanic responses.

 

Rank

Score

Field trips

1

79

Conferences like the Immigrant Farmers Conference

2

76

One-to-one conversations with other farmers

2

76

 

  • Few respondents attended an educational program the previous year, mainly because they were not aware of the events, although lack of time, language, and costs were also barriers.
  • There was little interest in online delivery and webinars. Fewer than half of respondents reported using the Internet in their home or farm business office, and fewer than 40% reported having broadband, well below the state average.

 

Insights on the findings

  • Immigrant farmers present a new opportunity for educational organizations. Although Minnesota has been a leader in developing educational programs for immigrant farmers, there is still a tremendous need for education among the people interviewed here.
  • The first step includes developing trust with some members of the group, then using the existing leadership to reach out to other people. Developing that trust takes time.
  • One difficulty in working with Hmong growers is finding an educator who can teach the classes, because few or no Hmong children have been majoring in horticulture or agriculture. The best format may be to hire an interpreter.
  • There are many Hispanics who are qualified to teach horticulture, animal science, and agriculture, but Hispanics are a diverse group scattered across the state. The number of Hispanic farmers will grow for the foreseeable future, and they are willing to pay for workshops.
  • Designing new programs or adapting existing programs to immigrant farmers’ needs and interests could be an excellent opportunity for the agricultural community to ensure that those who continue farming are continuing with the knowledge they need to be successful and grow the industry.
  • Educators should try to concentrate on the majority who indicated a positive attitude toward continuing to farm.

 

Thaddeus McCamant has a doctorate in botany and is the specialty crops management instructor for Central Lakes College in Staples, teaching farmers around the state on topics such as disease and pest control, soil fertility, legal compliance, and business plans.