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Colorado’s BIPOC Representation on Farmland

Prepared for Frontline Farming by Evan Gallant

Introduction

Colorado’s population is rapidly growing, having increased by 14.8% between 2010 and 2020 (Bradbury, 2021) -- a higher rate than the US’s 12.2% in the same timeframe. This rate is the 5th highest rate in the nation, with almost all growth occurring along the front range’s urban corridor (Fish, Najmabadi, and Vo, 2021). As a largely agricultural state with approximately half of the total land area dedicated to various forms of agriculture, we were curious how representative the industry has been (historically and currently) of the state’s BIPOC population (Farmland Information Center, 2021). Originally our goal was to find data describing the total number of BIPOC farmland owners at the county level - unfortunately, this data is either not available through the Census of Agriculture or was never collected. The most relevant extant data describes the number of farms on which BIPOC producers have worked, and the total land area covered by those farms. The distinction here is that “producers” do not necessarily own the farmland they work on. So, while this data does provide insight into the representation of BIPOC individuals making managerial decisions on the state’s farmland, it importantly does not discuss ownership nor representation of other BIPOC involved in food production such as farm or ranch workers. We provide this data set and analysis as a foundation from which more detailed analyses can be conducted, looking either at specific counties or specific BIPOC groups in Colorado.

Definitions

The Census of Agriculture has defined various BIPOC groups inconsistently over the last 50 years. Since racial classifications are fundamentally arbitrary and socially defined, tracking collective equity becomes a challenge as these categories are reported differently over time. While racial classifications are anchored to legal decisions including “OZAWA V. UNITED STATES (1922)” (Cornell Law School, 2021) and “THIND V. UNITED STATES (1923)”, these too are subject to shifts coinciding with fluctuations in social identities. A marked shift occurred in 2007, when multiple groups were reclassified and renamed. White and Black producers were defined consistently in the Census; definitions for the remaining groups as they are categorized in the research are listed below.

Group Name

Definition

American Indian/ Alaskan Native

This group is an official category starting in 2007, but only includes “American Indians” in the 1978, 1987, and 1997 censuses. It is unknown if Alaskan Native individuals were reported in a different group before 2007, or if they were referred to as American Indian peoples as well.

Asian/ Pacific Islander

This group is an official category in the 1978, 1987, and 1997 Censuses. For the purposes of this analysis, "Asian Operators" and "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander Operators" from the 2007 and 2017 censuses were combined into one group.

Hispanic, Latino, and Spanish Origin

This group is an official category starting in the 2007 Census, and a combination of the two groups "All Other Races" and "Spanish Origin" in the 1978, 1987, and 1997 Censuses. (See “All Other Races” below)

All Other Races

From the Census: “This category is primarily limited to persons native to or of ancestry from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America”, and was in use prior to 2007.

Additional definitions relevant to understanding the data set are listed below:

Term

Definition

Producer/ Operator

The term "operator" (before 2017) or “producer” (starting in 2017) designates a person who operates a farm, either doing the work or making day-to-day decisions about such things as planting, harvesting, feeding, and marketing. The operator/producer may be the owner, a member of the owner’s household, a hired manager, a tenant, a renter, or a sharecropper. If a person rents land to others or has land worked on shares by others, he/she is considered the operator/producer only of the land which is retained for his/her own operation.

Land in Farms

Land in farms is an operating unit concept and includes land owned and operated as well as land rented from others.

Methods

All data were collected or calculated from the Colorado Census of Agriculture for the years 1978, 1987, 1997, 2007, and 2017. Specific data sets with links are listed below:


A notable caveat of the data exists due to the number of producers that may be present on a single farm: up to 4 or 5 producers (depending on the year) may be counted in the census for each farm, meaning that if multiple individuals from different BIPOC groups work together on a single farm, that farm will show up multiple times in calculations which require the totalling of all BIPOC groups’ data. This was significant in determining the values for the “White Number of Farms” and “White Land in Farms” between 1978 and 1997. These two categories were not explicitly reported in the 1978, 1987, or 1997 censuses, and were instead calculated by summing the Number of Farms and Land in Farms values (respectively) from all BIPOC groups for each year, then subtracting that total from the overall state totals for Number of Farms and Land in Farms:


(Spanish et al. # of Farms + American Indian/Alaskan Native # of Farms + Asian # of Farms + Black # of Farms + Hawaiian/Pacific Islander # of Farms) - Colorado # of Farms = White # of Farms


(Spanish et al. Land in Farms + American Indian/Alaskan Native Land in Farms + Asian Land in Farms + Black Land in Farms + Hawaiian/Pacific Islander Land in Farms) - Colorado Land in Farms = White Land in Farms


Due to the potential unknown overlap of producers from multiple non-white groups being reported on a single farm, these calculations should not be used for statistical analysis.

The (D) Hurdle

In the Census of Agriculture some data are suppressed and shown as “(D)”, meaning these values are “withheld to avoid disclosing data for individual operations” (nass.usda.gov, 2019). This most commonly occurs when there are a small number of farms and/or producers within a county, where reporting specific values could lead to the identification of those producers. For instance, in 2017 three farms with Black producers existed in Boulder county, but (D) was reported for the Land in Farms value in that year:


County

2017 Number of Farms

2017 Number of Producers

2017 Number of Principal Producers

2017 Land in Farms

Boulder