The National Black Farmers Association is asking its membership to stop buying John Deere tractors, implements, mowers, and parts — a call that appears to be the result of long-running friction between the farm-equipment manufacturer and the nonprofit organization founded in 1995.
Year after year, the NBFA has invited the Deere company to display its equipment at the NBFA’s annual conference, the organization said in a news release, but John Deere executives have “curtly declined the invitation” repeatedly. With 116,000 members in 42 states, the NBFA represents a substantial customer base for Deere.
A few days after the organization’s allegations, Deere issued a statement saying, “In the past six years, John Deere has supported the National Black Farmers Association through financial sponsorship, equipment donation, and participation in the 2019 annual conference. We invest resources to eliminate systemic barriers facing Black farmers and communities through our continued partnership with organizations like the National Black Growers Council and Minorities in Ag, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANNRS). We remain committed to these organizations, the additional partners with whom we work, members of our new coalition, as well as Black farmers and the communities they represent.” (Article updated 9/16/20)
Additionally, over the summer, Deere & Co. pledged $1 million to the NAACP Empowerment Programs to fight racial inequality. The company had also encouraged employees to donate to social justice causes, promising to match some funds.
Still, NBFA president and founder John Boyd sees the issue as going much beyond that.
“John Deere has shown throughout its history that it has little respect for black farmers. The company seems to view our invitations as a nuisance,” Boyd said. “I have reached out to Mr. John May, President of John Deere, numerous times to discuss the issues raised by the NBFA. Mr. May’s response is ‘I decline your invitation,’ which is unacceptable.”
Boyd said that NBFA members would love the opportunity to see Deere’s newest agricultural innovations up close, but he claims that Deere prefers to “participate at predominantly white farm shows and events while snubbing the black farmers’ events.”
Despite Deere’s statement saying it was at the NBFA annual conference in 2019, the organization said Deere has never displayed any of its equipment there before.
“We announce a boycott of John Deere. We buy tractors and John Deere parts as well; we deserve to be treated with dignity and respect not as a nuisance,” Boyd said. “We are now open to new relationships with companies who value the work of NBFA members.”
The organization said it wants its members to receive the same treatment as members of the American Farm Bureau Federation receive — members of AFBF, for example, get discounts on John Deere purchases.
Since the racial unrest spurred by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day and the shooting of Jason Blake in Wisconsin last month, many sectors of American society have recently taken actions to address racial disparities in treatment and opportunities for Black and Brown people in the United States.
Boyd has brought discrimination against Black farmers to the forefront over the summer, too, when he pressured PepsiCo to do more than change the Aunt Jemima brand. In June, he said, “PepsiCo should now take the equally obvious but more substantive step of tapping Black farmers as significant sources of its products. Frankly, changing a label pales in comparison to transforming lives and generations by addressing the well documented systemic wealth and opportunity disparities in agriculture.”