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College of Veterinary Medicine

The Changing Agricultural Workforce; Hispanic People in Agriculture

Alejandra Desormaux

Hispanic people have a rich heritage in agriculture. While their numbers are small, approximating 5%, they represent the largest minority group enrolled in colleges of veterinary medicine today. Thus a continuum exists extending from migrant workers in livestock operations, such as the feedlots and meat processing plants of the High Plains, to first, second and third generation Hispanic families who are well established in the United States with growing interest in the veterinary medical profession.

In 1983 the proportion of United States farm workers that were Hispanic was 15.9%. In 2002, the number has risen to 47.4 %. Many of these workers do not speak English as their first language and 80 % of them speak Spanish at home. The emergence of cultural diversity at all levels of agriculture is not only because of choice, but because of necessity. The changing face of agriculture is met with many challenges but the largest challenge is communication between Spanish and English speaking people.

Language is a major issue at every level of Hispanic participation in animal-based enterprise. Toward that end, Dr. Dan Thomson and colleagues have established a bi-lingual program for feedlot workers funded by the USDA. This program stands to enhance productivity and quality of life for the stakeholders, but it also is an example of how best to engage Hispanic workers with skills in handling and managing livestock in the chain of meat management, feeding and veterinary medical care.

Communication is not just speaking. Effective communication can include body language, eye contact and the distance between people during a conversation. Today and tomorrow’s food animal veterinarians will have to be able to effectively communicate with the crews that are taking care of the animals. Never has it been more important to start a program that works to translate and communicate the issues related to beef production medicine to Hispanic workers.

Another communication breach is that a lot of Hispanic workers don’t read. This reinforces the fact that numerous types of communication must be brought to our animal production sites for training of Hispanic and Anglo workers. Tomorrow’s training modules must combine audio/visual tools, written materials and face-to-face interaction to advance our production animal caretakers’ knowledge and competency.