Community & Culture

Minority Growers Contend With Special Challenges

Two minority farmers share the trials and triumphs of continuing their family farming legacies.

The location of farmland plays a large role in key agricultural assistance programs that many growers take for granted. If your ability to use farm programs, obtain ag financing and access land were hindered, what would you do? Welcome to the unique challenges that face minority farmers like Ryan Lankford and Christi Bland.

Historical Challenges

Lankford grew up on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in north-central Montana, home of the Assiniboine and Gros Ventre people. Today, he and his family farm 20,000 acres where they grow spring and winter wheat, barley, chickpeas, canola and other crops near the Bears Paw Mountains. The climate there can make farming very challenging.

“We live on 12 to 14 inches of rain a year,” says Lankford, who noted that the region received only half an inch of rain in 2017. “You try to do everything right, but there’s so much risk when you farm in an arid climate. That’s on top of the land ownership issues we face with the federal government.”

Those land issues are the result of long-standing government policies. Today, Lankford and his family lease the majority of their land from their tribe. Lankford also owns some of his own land. But all of this property is also held in trust by the U.S. government, which in practical terms means that the government must approve all land-use decisions, including leasing and selling.


As we engage farmers and ag industry partners, it’s essential to truly listen to what people are saying.

Brandon Bell Diversity and Inclusion Lead
at Syngenta

“Lenders are reluctant to loan money for our farming operation, since land ownership with the government muddies the waters,” Lankford says. “We’ve also missed out on government payments like the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program due to restrictions imposed by our land-ownership situation. It’s a constant battle with government bureaucracy.”

Despite the challenges, Lankford still loves farming. After a stint in the military following 9/11 and earning a civil engineering degree from Montana State University in 2008, he had a realization. “I discovered how much I missed the farm,” Lankford says. “I also realized how serving in the military and farming are a call to service.”

A Family Farming Tradition in Mississippi

Christi Bland is a fourth-generation farmer from Tunica County, Mississippi, where she raises rice, soybeans, grain sorghum and wheat and is one of only 49,000 Black farmers in America, down from more than 925,000 in 1920. Like Native American farmers, Black farmers have faced historical challenges in agriculture.

“One of the challenges that Black farmers have faced historically is discrimination from the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] when it came to lending practices, and having to worry about if their land was going to be taken,” Bland says. In the past, many Black farmers handed down land informally without a will and testament. Instead, the land was shared between the heirs rather than being split up. Without the traditional legal documents, it often proved very difficult for Black farmers to gain access to capital because they weren’t able to prove to the bank that they had adequate collateral for a loan, which in turn meant that they weren’t able to purchase land and expand their operations.

The USDA has admitted to this long history of discrimination and has been taking steps since the late 1990s to address systemic racism and discrimination.1

But Bland says that for many Black farmers access to capital continues to be a problem to this day. “One of the unique challenges that I think Black farmers face,” she says, “is the generational wealth gap that we see. They’re not making any more land. Therefore, all the land that’s available is usually already taken up by larger farmers that have inherited land and generational wealth.”

Bland adds that today Black farmers constitute less than 1% of all the farmers in the U.S. However, the situation is improving for those farmers. The USDA has approved some initiatives that provide support to Black farmers.

Bland’s father, James Bland, Jr., will eventually pass down the family’s 1,500-acre operation to her. “The more I worked on the farm, the more I loved it,” she says.

Stories Turned Into Insights

Opening the lines of communication to address these issues is invaluable in a diverse industry like agriculture. “Agriculture serves everyone,” says Brandon Bell, diversity and inclusion lead at Syngenta. “As we engage farmers and ag industry partners, it’s essential to truly listen to what people are saying.”

Bell helps turn their stories into insights. He focuses on sharing knowledge, not changing people’s minds. Syngenta values the opportunity to encourage diverse viewpoints. “I want to help people be open to a new way of thinking,” Bell says. “Diversity feeds the spirit of community. Inclusion feeds the spirit of creativity. Equity feeds the spirit of innovation.”

For Lankford, this spirit reflects the joy of farming with his family. For Bland, a deputy commissioner with the Tunica County Soil and Water Conservation District, it means honoring her rural roots. “I don’t want to be the biggest farmer,” Bland says. “I want to be the best farm manager so I can carry on my family’s legacy.”

1Vilsack, Thomas J., “Opening Statement of Thomas J. Vilsack Before the House Committee on Agriculture – Remarks as Prepared,” March 25, 2021,