Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 2010 Volume 3

Native Americans: A Major Force in American Agriculture
 Cindy Yurth

Condensed by Native Village

The first accurate count of Native farmers and ranchers reveals Native Americans are a major force in American agriculture. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2007 Census is the first ever to count Native Americans in the field.

It shows
The vast majority of America's counties boast at least one Native-operated farm or ranch. 
Five counties with more than
500 Indian-operated farms are in the Four Corners area.
The farming-est tribe in America is the Diné (Navajo).
Of the nation's nearly 56,000 Indian farmers, more than one in five is Navajo.
Arizona and New Mexico have the highest proportion of Native agriculturalists.
Natives operate more than half of Arizona's farms and ranches.

While The National Agricultural Statistics Service did its best to count Indian farmers, the report itself concedes it probably missed more than a few.

"I'm hearing from lots of people that they weren't counted," said Wilson Halwood, a Diné soil technician.  "Finally, [though], we have some numbers to plug in."  Those numbers are needed for grants and financial assistance.

Until this year, stats on Native farmers were few and far between. The Census of Agriculture, which is taken every five years or so, counted each Indian reservation as one farm until the year 2000.

In 2002, a pilot program was launched to count American Indian ag operators on reservations in North and South Dakota and Montana. When NASS learned that Natives would agree to fill out and return the forms, the experiment was extended to the rest of the country.

The result was :
An 88% increase in the number of Native farms.
In Arizona and New Mexico, the count increased from
694 to 12,929
12,036 of those farms were Navajo. 572 were Hopi.
As a whole, Navajo farmers lost money. While they produced
$60,000,000 worth of agricultural products, they had $100,000,000 in expenses, mostly feed and gasoline.
three Navajo farms grossed over $50,000, and most - -6,854 - -made $1,000 or less.

Halwood attributes the loss to neglecting good conservation practices, like rotating crops and pastures.  "We haven't been kind to our Mother Earth," he said. "We're all trying to see how much we can get out of her without putting anything back in."

Diné farms also tended to be small
9,922  were between 1-9 acres, compared with a national average of 418 acres.
93 comprised 1,000 acres or more.
Nearly the entire reservation -
15,700,000 of its 17,000,000  acres - is under either cultivation or grazing.
 5,436 Navajo farms grew crops on a total of 109,000 acres. But this figure is grossly distorted --  the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry used 70,000 of those acres for alfalfa, beans, potatoes, popcorn and pumpkins, and other crops.

The main Navajo crop isn't a plant; it's sheep
6,912 ranches had only sheep; 7,397 also had at least one horse.
 143,000 sheep roamed the Navajo Nation in 2007
There were also
81,000 cows, 35,000 horses and 56,000 goats.

For every Native farm counted by the census, dozens more farms are small, like the Kuwunvana family's half-acre of blue corn near Sichomovi, Ariz. The Kuwunvanas' patch doesn't qualify as a farm under the census because they don't sell their produce. But it does keep the family in corn through the winter.

Alida Kuwunvana, sends her sons into the corn patch because she believes Hopi men should know how to farm. Her son, Richard, 24, admits he sometimes hoes weeds with a four-iron to practice his golf swing. "Our family has farmed this land forever," he said. "We're part of the corn, and its part of us."

Graphics: Heather's Animations

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