Black farmers’ association calls for Tractor Supply CEO’s resignation after company cuts DEI efforts

by jaclynknutson1

NEW YORK (AP) — The National Black Farmers Association called on Tractor Supply’s president and CEO Tuesday to step down after the rural retailer announced that it would drop most of its corporate diversity and climate advocacy efforts.

The resignation demand emerged as Tractor Supply, which sells products ranging from farming equipment to pet supplies, faces a deepening backlash over its decision, which itself came after conservative activists spoke out against the company’s work to be more socially inclusive and to curb climate change.

In a public announcement last week, the company said it would eliminate all of its diversity, equity and inclusion roles, end sponsorships of “nonbusiness activities” like Pride festivals, and withdraw its goals for reducing carbon emissions. Critics of the new position argue that Tractor Supply is giving in to hate and harming its customers by abandoning crucial principles.

“I was appalled by the decision,” John Boyd Jr., president and founder of the National Black Farmers Association, said in an interview. “I see this as rolling back the clock with race relations — because the country is so divided on race, especially in rural America.”

Tractor Supply declined to comment further when reached on Tuesday.

Tractor Supply, which has its headquarters in Brentwood, Tennessee, operates over 2,200 stores across the United States, most of them located in rural areas. The retailer’s core customer base consists of shoppers in need of farm and ranch products, such as livestock feed, trucking supplies, tools and outdoor equipment.

Boyd said Tractor Supply stores can be found where much of NBFA’s 130,000 members are located. Like other farmers, he said Black farmers have shopped at the chain for years. Boyd, who is also a Tractor Supply shareholder, estimated personally spending more than $10,000 at his local store since January alone — buying supplies like fencing wire and feed for his cattle and horses in Virginia.

Before the company’s announcement, conservative activists opposed to DEI efforts, sponsorship of LGBTQ+ events and climate advocacy had spent weeks criticizing Tractor Supply on social media. Tractor Supply said in its Thursday statement that it was making the changes after hearing from disappointed customers and took “this feedback to heart.”

The decision marked a significant shift in messaging from Tractor Supply, which once touted its diversity and inclusion efforts. In recent years, the company has been trying to broaden its appeal to younger consumers — including former city dwellers it is at risk of now alienating.

“We will continue to listen to our customers and Team Members. Your trust and confidence in us are of the utmost importance, and we don’t take that lightly,” the company said.

NBFA said it made repeated attempts to discuss its concerns with Tractor Supply President and CEO Hal Lawton before calling for his resignation.

“He’s gone too far — and we have to let him know we’re not going to sit back and take this mess anymore,” Boyd said, adding that the organization may consider calling for a boycott of Tractor Supply if nothing changes in the coming days. “We’re tired of (being) mistreated by the government and Fortune 500 companies. … Black farmers are going to start fighting back. And that’s what we’re doing.”

Some customers already have decided to take their business elsewhere, including Squirrelwood Equine Sanctuary, a New York animal sanctuary that says it spend more than $65,000 annually on livestock feed and other supplies at Tractor Supply.

Squirrelwood co-founder Beth Hyman said she first heard about the company’s decision when the sanctuary’s supporters reached out to ask if the group planned to make a statement about it. She thought about it for a day and then went to her local store to ask a manager whom she’s worked with for years about the announcement.

Hyman, who is gay, said she told the manager the sanctuary could no longer support Tractor Supply if its announcement reflected its beliefs. The sanctuary also posted its stance on X, where the post has received 31,000 likes.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that a company would cave to basically a hate campaign,” Hyman said. “Now they just have another boycott on their hands. We didn’t call for that, but obviously people are.”

Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, said the conservative pressure on Tractor Supply and the fallout from giving in was the “perfect example of how the increasing split in the country — politically and ideologically — have made it really hard to run consumer-facing businesses.”

“No matter which way you go on this, you’re going to upset big chunks of customers,” he said.

Consumers of all backgrounds are becoming more influenced by social media and choosing to redirect their spending if they feel like companies don’t align with their values, Adamson said. With the case of Tractor Supply, whose business is tethered to rural communities, anti-DEI activism put the retailer in a “really tricky” situation where it had to do something to stop a potential exodus, he said.

“No company wants to be a target of negativity on social media,” Adamson said. “It’s a no-win situation.”

Tractor Supply’s reversal follows boycott campaigns against Bud Light and Target last year over their LGBTQ+ marketing. Target decided not to carry Pride Month merchandise in all its stores this June following last year’s backlash.

Legal attacks against companies’ diversity and inclusion efforts have also drawn more attention following the Supreme Court’s 2023 ruling to end affirmative action in college admissions. Many conservative and anti-DEI activists have been seeking to set a similar precedent in the working world.

A handful of other organizations and patrons of Tractor Supply have also expressed disappointment or outrage over the company’s recent announcement — which included plans to no longer submit data to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S.

Eric Bloem, vice president of programs and corporate advocacy at the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement last week that Tractor Supply is “turning its back on their own neighbors with this shortsighted decision.” The organization had worked with Tractor Supply to create inclusive policies and practices for years, he added.

But Boyd, of the National Black Farmers Association, said despite yearslong efforts from the NBFA, Tractor Supply did not consult the group on past diversity and inclusion goals or participate in the organization’s conferences. The company recently invited NBFA to apply to be a partner of Tractor Supply’s company foundation, but the organization learned on June 26 — one day before Tractor Supply’s announcement on its DEI and climate goals — that it was not among the groups selected, he said.

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