Posts Tagged: Agriculture
The California Department of Food and Agriculture is awarding $1.85 million to the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources to increase technical assistance for California's organic farmers.
CDFA's State Organic Program is executing $850,000 in contracts with UC ANR to run through September 2024, while CDFA's Office of Environmental Farming and Innovation is awarding a $1 million grant to run from July 2022 to June 2025.
“California farmers provide 36% of all organic production in the United States,” said CDFA Secretary Karen Ross. “This funding expands technical assistance to growers transitioning to certified organic agriculture and supports our strong California community of organic farmers and consumers by conducting field trials and demonstration projects with farmers to improve organic practices.”
California organically farms just over 2 million acres, which is about 8% of the total agricultural acreage in the state, and will likely continue to expand over time as long as consumer demand continues to rise, according to Houston Wilson, director of UC ANR's Organic Agriculture Institute.
“Demand for organic agriculture has consistently grown every year for the past two decades,” Wilson said. “Organic currently accounts for 5.8% of domestic food sales.”
“We are excited to see CDFA increasing support for organic agriculture as part of a broader climate-smart agriculture strategy,” said Wilson. “As demand for organic continues to rise, California growers need increasingly targeted technical assistance in all areas of organic production and marketing.”
The CDFA funds will allow UC ANR to hire two academic coordinators, which are currently being recruited.
“The academic coordinators will work directly with growers, as well as develop research and extension projects that will involve existing UC Cooperative Extension personnel,” Wilson said. “One of the coordinators will specifically focus on connecting our efforts with small-scale and historically underserved growers through our partnership with the UC Small Farms Program.”
The organic practices can be used by conventional farms as well as organic farms.
“Just as organic farmers benefit from UC ANR's pest management, irrigation and crop production research, the new knowledge developed on organic practices by the UC Organic Agriculture Institute will be useful for all California farmers,” said Glenda Humiston, UC vice president for agriculture and natural resources.
Some of the key UC ANR project objectives include:
- Conduct research on soil health management, carbon sequestration and crop rotations in organic systems
- Create new extension and training opportunities for organic growers across California
- Provide technical assistance to both certified and transitioning organic growers
- Review and summarize organic acreage and practices in California
- Develop economic analysis of organic production and markets
“Clif Bar is proud to have supported the creation of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute and congratulates them on this new and important funding,” said Philippa Lockwood, Clif Bar social responsibility program manager. “Supporting the advancement of organic agriculture in our home state of California and the great work that's to come from the UCOAI is a true honor and we look forward to their impactful agricultural innovations ahead.”
The 2022-2023 state budget signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom includes $5 million in funds for CDFA to assist farmers with transitioning to organic operations, and the USDA recently announced an investment of up to $300 million for the same purpose.
Updated July 18, 2022, to add Philippa Lockwood quote.
Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) has published the new California Organic Research Agenda (CORA), a comprehensive report that examines current needs and challenges of organic farmers and ranchers across California and provides policy and research recommendations to address producer-identified issues.
The CORA report is a companion to OFRF's 2022 National Organic Research Agenda. The national organic survey data boasts responses from over 1,100 producers and 16 listening sessions held across the U.S. Using the California subset of the national survey data, the CORA report highlights the top production and non-production challenges cited by California's organic farmers and ranchers.
“Organic farming has been historically under-invested in, in terms of research, education and extension,” says OFRF Executive Director Brise Tencer. “Both the new California Organic Research Agenda and the 2022 National Organic Research Agenda present incredible feedback directly from organic farmers and provide a compelling roadmap for how to best support the growth of this important sector of agriculture.”
Report findings indicate that managing production costs is a substantial challenge for 71% of producers surveyed, and accessing labor proved to be the leading non-production challenge. An overwhelming number of state producers (76%) expressed substantial need for technical assistance with the organic management of weeds, pests, and disease. In addition to detailing farmer challenges on and off the field, OFRF's CORA report provides a comparison analysis of farmer responses based on commodity and farming experience. National and state comparisons are also included in the report.
Production of the CORA report was supported in part by the University of California Organic Agriculture Institute, a new statewide program within the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as the UC Santa Cruz Center for Agroecology.
“One of our primary activities is to generate new research and extension programs focused on organic agriculture,” says Houston Wilson, director of the UC Organic Agriculture Institute. “The CORA report provides an excellent roadmap to guide and prioritize our efforts, we're really excited to turn this information into action.”
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, state farmers and ranchers were responsible for 40% of all organic agricultural product sales in the country. Data from a 2019 USDA organic survey concludes California has 965,257 acres in organic production, which is approximately 17.5% of all organic acreage in the country. OFRF's California Organic Research Agenda examines grower needs in the nation's top-producing state of organic agricultural commodities and specialty crops, paving the way for future research and investment.
"This report will benefit organic growers in California by playing a role as a critical reference to increase public support and develop research projects targeting specific needs that diverse organic growers in the state are facing," says Joji Muramoto, UC Cooperative Extension organic production specialist based at UC Santa Cruz.
The CORA report is available free online at https://ofrf.org/research/nora for farmers, policymakers, agricultural suppliers, seed companies and the general public.
UC SAREP's Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems grant helps support Second Chance garden
Fifteen-year-old Xavier knows the anger within him will never leave. “I can't ever get rid of it,” he said.
“I've always wanted to just fight for no reason; I just had an anger issue, losing my temper quick with people,” added Xavier, a ninth-grader in San Diego County. “I have high expectations of myself.”
Xavier is working to keep his emotions under control, and he has found a sense of calm through his volunteer work. He was an intern – and then a peer supervisor – in the youth-run garden of Second Chance, a San Diego-based organization that works to break the cycles of poverty and incarceration by providing housing and job training to adults and young people.
Operating their garden as a small farm business, youth in the program, ages 14 to 21, offer produce to the community through their farm stand and a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) model.
“The project incorporates a ‘farm to fork' approach in which youth not only experience how to grow food, but how to cook and eat healthfully,” said Gail Feenstra, director of the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, which has a grant program that funds research and education projects – such as the youth garden – supporting sustainable food systems.
“Second Chance works primarily with youth in communities of color, providing them with training and also helping them develop confidence in themselves,” Feenstra said.
Filling a critical need for fresh produce
Caelli Wright, program manager of the Second Chance youth garden, said that grant funds from SAREP – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have been used to purchase the supplies needed to sustain the program. The garden has filled a critical need for produce during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After the pandemic hit, we recognized the increased need for fresh food in our neighborhoods,” Wright said. “That need was already there – southeast San Diego is considered a ‘food swamp' or ‘food apartheid', if you will – and with the onset of COVID, that need just escalated with unemployment and complications in our food production systems.”
Through a partnership with UC San Diego Center for Community Health and Encanto Elementary School (located down the block from the garden), donations enabled the program to give its CSA shares to about 25 families at Encanto. Over the course of the pandemic, the youth have grown 10,000 pounds of produce to donate.
At the same time, the program helps the young participants grow. For Xavier, being outdoors with peers empowered him to develop positive relationships. Previously, as a student in a charter school program, he was not accustomed to interacting with people and groups. Volunteering in the youth garden has given him a fresh perspective and understanding of others.
“Learning to be patient with people and [to] accept sometimes that if I don't know something, I need to ask about it, because I used to be so in my ego that I thought I knew everything,” Xavier explained. “But I don't know everything – I just learned to accept some things…that's just being part of life. And that's something that the garden has helped me with, personally.”
Opportunities for personal, social growth
Developing – and redeveloping – social skills are especially important for students, as they return from the disconnections associated with remote learning.
“Right now, with a lot of students facing the aftermath of COVID and being restricted to learning at home and not getting as much social interaction in their daily lives, it's led to a lot of challenges, mental health-wise, and social and emotional learning-wise,” Wright said. “The garden program provides that opportunity that some youth have been missing out on.”
In southeast San Diego, such crucial opportunities for personal growth and career exploration are harder to come by, and Second Chance started the garden in 2012 to give youth a unique work experience and valuable skills. About 400 young people have participated in the program.
“The youth that we serve are coming from low-income neighborhoods that are underserved with resources,” Wright said. “They just are not exposed to the same opportunities [as those in higher-income areas] to build skills or be ready for the workforce or to reach higher education – so that's where our program comes in and helps deliver those needed services.”
Xavier, who originally came to the garden because he heard that landscaping could be a lucrative career, recently finished his second stint as a peer supervisor in the youth garden. With his new skills, he and his cousin are looking to start a business of their own, cutting grass and doing yardwork in their community.
And, late last month, Xavier transferred to a more traditional high school environment.
“Being in a charter school after two, three years,” he said, “I've realized I miss being around more people.”/h3>/h3>/h2>
In recent years, there has been a rise in the number of backyard poultry farms as people have taken an increased interest in farming. With raising these animals comes new challenges in taking care of them and ensuring they stay healthy.
However, there is a gap between the needs of these small avian communities in Californians' backyards and the current services available that generally work for service large-scale poultry operations alone.
This is where Beatriz Martinez Lopez, professor of infectious disease epidemiology, and Alda Pires, associate professor for Cooperative Extension and agronomist, come into play. Both in UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the two women work on projects addressing avian influenza, animal health and food safety needs of people raising backyard poultry and livestock.
“Alda has a lot of experience and her work is amazing,” said Martinez Lopez.
To better address the diseases and problems associated with raising birds in the California context, they completed a series of needs assessments to understand the animal health requirements of small farms and backyard chickens.
“It has helped us be more organized and structured in our outreach,” Pires said. “There is a need to apply simple, practical biosecurity plans that are adapted for multiple species to small-scale, backyard and diversified farms.”
Through a multistate project funded by the USDA National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, they created a website, FARM PPE, for producers to easily access biosecurity plan templates and additional resources. PPE stands for prepare, prevent and evaluate to reduce disease risk.
“Our clients are benefiting from the structured network we created,” Pires continued. “This website project, FARM PPE, aims to improve uptake of biosecurity measures on small-scale farms, by focusing on farmers and other professionals, including extension educators and veterinarians.”
The website project also created several trainings for farmers and educators to generate consistent messaging for small-scale farms.
With backyard birds being one of the potential sources of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, it is important to understand how the disease could spread to commercial flocks. The major challenge of the project is the complexity of the human/wildlife interface and the difficulties in predicting where an outbreak may arise.
Together, Martinez Lopez and Pires have published several papers about modeling disease transmission, and the work yields valuable information about hotspots for targeting surveillance strategies and wildlife surveys.
Their professional partnership is rooted in their personal connection; the scientists met as graduate students in 2006 and were delighted to cross paths again at UC Davis.
“Our collaboration started with friendship and our common interests in epidemiology and animal health,” said Pires.
As exemplified by their own careers, Martinez Lopez and Pires stress the importance of networking, getting involved and taking risks.
“Invite farm advisors and outreach partners from the beginning of the process so that they are part of the team,” Pires said. “That way you can create solutions that will give them the knowledge and resources they need.”
Cal OAK Network to build on, grow connections between UC and organic community
After pioneering the organic movement in the 1970s, California now leads the nation in number of organic farms, total organic acreage and overall organic crop value. Attaining this status was no small feat, and largely driven by resourceful growers who developed and refined the wide range of novel organic farming practices seen in California today.
Now, with the creation of the Organic Agriculture Institute, the University of California will be able to leverage its vast capacity for research, extension and education to further improve the sustainability, resilience and profitability of organic agriculture in the state.
In its first major public initiative, the Organic Agriculture Institute – a program of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – is conducting a statewide needs assessment for organic agriculture, as well as forming a knowledge-sharing network that connects UC experts with growers, processors, producer organizations, certifiers, crop consultants, community groups and state agencies.
“This network will be a sustainability partnership that enables learning, innovation and cooperation among organic agriculture stakeholders,” said Houston Wilson, director of the Organic Agriculture Institute, which was established in January 2020. “As facilitator of the Cal OAK Network, the Organic Ag Institute will serve as an intermediary that fosters communication among stakeholder groups, organizes discourse, forges new collaborations, and generally enhances coordination of stakeholder activities.”
By creating closer connections between the UC and the organic community, the Cal OAK Network will foster ongoing feedback cycles of knowledge and best practices, and in doing so help create the conditions and momentum to facilitate the development and adoption of organic production practices.
“The Cal OAK Network will better connect the organic community with UC technical and training resources, while at the same time providing a mechanism for that community to feed information back to the UC that helps us shape our programs at the Organic Ag Institute,” said Wilson, noting potential contributions in areas such as pest control, weed management and crop nutrition.
In the first 18 months of the Institute, Wilson has been charting the current landscape of organic agriculture in California, listening to the needs of stakeholders and working to position the Institute in a way that best uses the UC's unique research and extension capacities to support and augment existing efforts by growers and other groups.
The Institute recently received a planning grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct a formal needs assessment through summer 2022. In surveying growers and other stakeholders, the Institute seeks to identify their primary research and extension priorities, as well as gain a better understanding of the key people and organizations they currently rely on for information about organic production.
Through this process, a map of nodes and connections in the organic community will also take shape – and the roster of members for the Cal OAK Network will continue to grow. As Wilson points out, it is only through a diverse and robust information-sharing system that California organic agriculture will successfully adapt to challenges like climate change.
“We're trying to create a resilient infrastructure for engagement with organic stakeholders,” he said. “When we talk about sustainability in agriculture, part of that is having sustainable institutions that function well and can be flexible and dynamic as new challenges arise down the road.”