The University of California will close its statewide Small Farm Program on Dec. 31, in an effort to close a budget shortfall of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), according to Shermain D. Hardesty, director of the program.
Since 2000, the Small Farm Program has brought in $1.97 million in grants and contracts to the university. By ending the Small Farm Program, ANR will save $140,000 in annual costs, along with a one-time savings of $268,000.
According to USDA’s most recent census information, California has 68,536 small-scale farmers, and 47 percent of California’s farmers have limited resources. The Small Farm Program has served thousands of smaller farmers in California since being established 30 years ago, in response to a lawsuit detailing how the University’s mechanization research adversely impacted small-scale farmers. For many new farmers, immigrant farmers and small-scale growers, the Small Farm Program’s advisors are the trusted first links to university research in a food system often more conducive to large-scale production.
Small-scale farmers cannot compete against large farms based on price, due to economies of scale. Thus the Small Farm Program has sought to enable California’s small-scale farmers to differentiate themselves through the crops they produce, their production methods and their marketing channels. The program leverages academic research and grant funding to provide scale-appropriate solutions, including:
• Niche crops: Field trials and cultivation information on new specialty crops, such as blueberry, miniature melon, annual artichoke, daikon, edamame, capers, pitahaya, lychee, longan, jujube, lemon grass, sweet and chili pepper varieties, guava, papaya, squash, gailan, sinqua, moqua, and other Asian vegetables, along with publication of original and updated versions of the Specialty Crops Handbook.
• Farmers markets: Support for the development of farmers markets, including publication of the three-volume Farmers Market Management series, and handbooks regarding risk, liability and food safety guidelines for markets.
• Minority farmers: Delivery of educational programs to non-English speaking and ethnic-minority farmers regarding crop selection, weed control, pest and disease management, irrigation practices, postharvest handling and storage, and regulatory requirements regarding labor and pesticide handling practices. The Small Farm Program also connects these farmers to other resources available to them, including USDA programs.
• Agritourism: Organization of a statewide workgroup of Cooperative Extension advisors and stakeholders who led workshops for more than 1,000 small-scale producers, development of regional agritourism organizations, creation of a statewide online directory of agritourism operations, a newsletter and a communication network for agritourism, and an assessment of the needs and economic contributions of California’s agritourism operations.
• Critical analysis: Timely analytical studies addressing critical small-farm issues, including a feasibility study for a regional niche meats processing facility and the costs for leafy greens growers to comply with food safety programs, including the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement.
• Healthy environments: Hands-on workshops for growers on topics to preserve healthy environments, such as fertigation, farm water quality management, pesticide safety, and soil solarization. • Alternative marketing: Ongoing workshops for producers regarding marketing through alternative channels, including the state’s revised farm stand regulations, effective marketing at farmers markets, management of marketing costs, and requirements for marketing processed food products.
• Business management: Training for small-scale farmers to improve their business management skills by using USDA resources, such as the Market News Service data, farm loan programs and conservation programs. The program provides a Web site with nearly 25,000 page views each month of field-tested information on specialty crops, direct marketing, agritourism, postharvest handling, and farm management topics as well as a newsletter with more than 5,000 subscribers. In addition, we provide organizational leadership to the annual California Small Farm Conference, which rotates around the state and consistently supports 600 participants each year.
With the closing of the Small Farm Program, all of these activities would be scattered or discontinued. Since 85 percent of all California farms are considered “small” by USDA standards, ensuring that small-scale farmers are economically viable is important to the sustainable food system of the future, according to Hardesty.