The development of agriculture has been an integral part of our national development. From the tales of the first Thanksgiving all the way to the present day, farming and growing food remains a firmly established part of the American identity.
More importantly, our national agricultural endeavors have been underpinned by a strong multicultural presence right from the get go. The earliest American settlers received help from the native people of North America to kick start their winter crop yield back in the 17th century, and hundreds of years later the United Farm Workers of America was founded to represent the enormous contingent of immigrant workers that comprise the industry today. Building awareness of the multiculturalism inherent to the agricultural industry is important not just for the consumers of such products, but also the people running the operations.
The agriculture industry is sprouting more than just the food that we eat – it’s growing a much more diverse workforce as well. According to the National Center for Farmworker Health, the U.S. agriculture industry is comprised of around 3 million seasonal and migrant workers – those who travel from farm to farm for work, or who work only during planting and harvesting seasons. Unlike most other industries in the country, agriculture not only has a strong multicultural presence, but is actually dominated by workers who have immigrated to the U.S. from other countries.
As the NCFH reported, a full 72 percent of American farmworkers were not born in the U.S. This means that a significant portion of the $28 billion the farming industry brings in annually is a direct result of the labor of multicultural employees, making them a crucial component of not just the industry, but the U.S. way of life as a whole.
Multiculturalism, multilingualism and the farm industry
With so much of the agriculture industry comprised of multicultural and multiethnic workers, it stands to reason that this presents significant linguistic considerations for managers and executives involved with the daily operation of such companies. While NCFH data revealed that 30 percent of migrant workers indicated they could speak English well, that still leaves 70 percent of the working population less than fluent. In fact, 35 percent of workers – the largest contingent represented by the NCFH survey – responded that they did not speak English at all.
Thus, in order to foster the good business communication skills that companies need to operate effectively, employers need to take this linguistic diversity into account on a foundational level. In fact, Fresh Fruit Portal revealed that not only do multicultural workers find jobs in the fields themselves, but such jobs can also provide career advancement opportunities, including the potential for farm ownership down the road.
Since these workers are such an important part of the foundation of the industry, and communicating in English can pose a challenge for so many of them, companies can move to bridge that language gap by pushing for corporate language training programs. The NCFH indicated that 68 percent of U.S. farmworkers were born in Mexico, meaning that there is an incredibly strong industry slant toward developing Spanish language training. In fact, not only should agricultural executives consider developing their own Spanish language skills, but corporate language training can also be implemented at the worker level to help develop the English knowledge of the workers. Such an initiative could be valuable not only as a means to increase efficiency, but can also provide an attractive benefit to workers who are new to the industry. Demonstrating a desire to invest in multicultural employees is sure to give companies an edge moving forward.