This article is sponsored by Nuveen.
A key tenet of Westchester’s investment philosophy in farmland has been to build portfolios that provide diversity by geographic region, crop type and operating strategy. The philosophy was designed to deliver consistent returns, mitigate risk associated with investing in agriculture and reflect the global opportunity set available to institutional investors in farmland.
The global diversification of our investments is mirrored by similar diversification of our tenant farmers and crop managers, as well as our clients. To make better investment decisions, reduce risk and enable our business to have empathy with the farming communities in which we invest, we feel it is equally important that Westchester’s employees reflect the same diversification.
Diversity is challenged by two key issues: the aging demographic of the agricultural workforce and fewer people being interested in working in the sector, as reflected by the declining number of people graduating from agriculture-related degrees.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has reported that the average age of farmers is 60. The nature of agricultural work – which takes place outdoors and is often perceived as unsophisticated, monotonous and invariably in isolated rural locations – has low appeal to younger generations. In Australia, for example, the number of students enrolled in agricultural courses has declined by 40 percent over the past 30 years.
The UK faces similar challenges in attracting diverse candidates. Compounding the decreasing pool of talent entering the industry is the challenge of creating an inclusive environment when many employees are in rural areas. Women now make up one-third of the country’s agricultural workforce, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey.
Westchester has been actively increasing the level of female representation across the business for the past five years. In 2020, 65 percent of new hires were women, which increased the female representation in the business to 41 percent. Women now account for 17 percent of the farmland investment team, up from 6 percent five years ago. Finally, Westchester’s executive management team now has two female members, representing sustainability and portfolio management.
In the broader agricultural industry, we have been involved in several initiatives to support inclusion and education. Westchester established a program 11 years ago on the West Coast of the US, called Fruits of Employment, which supports hiring people with disabilities. This program has benefited both the employees and the industry. Since its inception, 150 workers have found jobs through the program.
On education, for the last eight years Westchester and its investors have sponsored Nuffield scholars. Nuffield is a charity that supports development of the industry’s future leaders by sending them overseas to learn about global agricultural practices. This enables them to bring world’s best practices back to their own operations.
We firmly believe in the merits of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive workforce at Westchester and in the broader industry. Although we have made progress on diversity, equity and inclusion, we also recognize that this is a journey that we have begun but for which we still have more work to do.