- Author: Aleta Barrett
- County: UCCE Placer/Nevada
In my first Starting Smarter blog post, I talked about hands-on education, business planning, market research, and crop selection (Starting Smarter Part 1). I could write a book on what I didn't know when I started farming. In Part 2, I will summarize key considerations for a successful start-up and things I would do in the first years.
If I had it all to do over again, what would I do differently in my vegetable operation?
Equipment & Infrastructure: I would invest in BCS (walk-behind tractor), used tractor, or make a rental equipment budget part of my start-up plan. My husband put his knees in jeopardy by using a shovel to break ground and farm our first ¼ acre. Rental equipment would have been a game changer in our first couple of years. We benefitted immediately from some key infrastructure investments: a cool room, washing area, high tunnel, germination area, and greenhouse. In our operation, these are important and I would get them as quickly as I could without taking on debt. Before buying, ask other farmers what were game changers for them. Develop a list, put the items in order of priority and buy them as you can. Go with inexpensive versions that get the job done and that you can afford. Debt is not the friend of a beginning farmer.
Land: A few things I would check when choosing land:
• Zoning and restrictions
• Flat/sloped and direction/aspect
• Water source and reliability
• Soil quality
• Drainage – how does the land behave during the dry AND rainy seasons?
• Delivery truck accessibility
• Prior use and potential for organic certification
• Surrounding property use – is there anything around you that may require barriers or cause conflict? (e.g. noise or odor restrictions)
• Is there adequate fencing? If not add that expense into your start up budget.
Farmers' Markets: I would stick with one farmers' market until I was consistently making a profit before expanding to more.
Organic Certification: I would have become Certified Organic sooner. It really was not hard, the certifier was very helpful and guided me through the process. It would have helped me keep better records from the beginning.
Labor: I would estimate my annual labor budget and add in employees only when I had enough cash flow. I would calculate the full cost (loaded labor rate, including taxes and workers compensation insurance) of an employee before hiring. I would consider how much time I could afford to spend as a manager rather than a worker on my farm. I would hire people only for the time I was available to manage them.
Owner Salary: I would pay myself every month, even if it were only $100. Just to get in the mindset that the farm should pay me. Then I would work hard to get that up to a financially sustainable income. The median per capita income in Placer-Nevada is $34,000 year or $2,833 per month. I would attempt to track and limit my time working on the farm. This is a challenge but it's important to enjoy life and not allow the farm to work you to death.
Financing & Savings: I did know a few things in the beginning because I had managed and owned other businesses in the past and benefited from having a savings account and family backing. I knew that the business would not turn a profit for at least three years and I needed enough savings to live off during that time.
There are some things you just have to learn by doing. For me, I'm better at fielding questions from farmers' market customers now. I remember how to harvest, what temperature, and how long to store various types of produce. In the beginning, I had to constantly check a book or go online for this information. There are many things I am still learning and I'm sure there always will be.
Your unique situation will require your own solutions and methods. I hope these tips help you become a profitable farmer more quickly and efficiently. May you have a bountiful and successful farm!
Check out the New Farmers and Resources tabs on our Foothill Farming website: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/
- Author: Aleta Barrett
- County: UCCE Placer/Nevada
If I had it all to do over again, what would I do differently?
Practice: To start, I would educate myself by doing – work or intern on a profitable farm for at least one season. I can't tell you how many hours I wasted on inefficient harvesting when an experienced farmer could have trained me to do it a better, faster way.
Education: While I was learning how to do the hands-on work, I would take classes – farm business, farm management, farm marketing, etc. Taking classes taught by people with experience in the field gives a new farmer the opportunity to ask questions and have access to more information and resources. Farming is a unique business with its own language and challenges. Farm business classes can help a new farmer develop a realistic and informed business plan.
Business Perspective: I would not start with a homesteader perspective like the one I did. I had too many enterprises from the get go – chickens, goats, and 40+ vegetables. For a farm to be financially successful, it needs to be treated as a business, not a hobby.
Business Plan: I would focus more on marketing and financial goals. I would include the word “profit” in my mission statement. My original business plan focused too specifically on land use and crop production, environmental impact, and social involvement.
Banking: I did pretty well in this area. The following tips saved me a lot of stress during a financially dry period:
• Start with a separate farm business checking and personal checking account
• Do not take on debt
• Keep track of everything on some version of accounting software.
Market Research: I would do market research on what to grow. I would takes notes on price and what products were in demand at farmers' markets and other outlets where I intended to sell. I would contact produce managers and farmers' market managers and ask them what they wanted. I would watch market customers to see where they shopped. I would note which products sold out by the end of the market. As it was, I started out growing what I liked to eat – and more! If I had done my market research, I could have wasted less time on crops that were not in demand or were too inexpensive for me to be competitive on pricing.
See Starting Smarter Part 2: Lessons I Learned Along the Way next week to read about Land, Equipment, Labor and more.
Check out the New Farmers and Resources tabs on this website information and some useful information:
Foothill Farming: http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/
- Author: Cheryl A. Wilen
It's beginning to look a lot like spring, so many small growers try to save some money by starting seeds in growing systems and then plant the transplants to get a jump on weeds and other pests like slugs that can decimate a direct-seeded crop. But even the best ideas can sometimes not go as planned.
There are two main pathogens, Pythium and Rhizoctonia, that are the cause of damping-off disease but there are others such as Fusarium and Phytophthora. This disease occurs in newly emerged seedlings, or even as the seeds are just starting to germinate. Damping off is the cause of many seedling losses. It is most notable soon after the seedling emerges. The seedling will seem fine one day and the next it has flopped over at the base and then it dies. We see it a lot this time of year because it is most prevalent in cool and wet conditions.
Damping off is not the same as root rot. Damping off affects the young, succulent stem of the seedlings at or slightly below the soil or media surface while root rot affects the roots. We generally don't see root rot unless the drainage is bad.
There is no cure for damping off but it can be prevented. The best thing to do is avoid keeping the media very wet and if possible, start the plants in a warm location such as a greenhouse. It is better to mist the media and plants lightly several times a day than water heavily. Misters can be set to go off using timers or one can hand water using “fogger” nozzles. Do not reuse soil or pots that had plants that died unless sterilized because they now carry the pathogen.
As plants get past the seedling stage, they are no longer susceptible to damping off but if the soil is still kept wet, root and stem rot can occur.
UC IPM has developed a Pest Note covering damping off and it can be found at http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/PESTNOTES/pn74132.html
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
Are your birds safe from avian influenza?
Take UC's biosecurity survey to see how you score
Outbreaks of highly pathogenic avian influenza in January 2017 killed birds at commercial poultry farms and backyard flocks in the UK, China and South Korea. Thousands more ducks, chickens and other birds were culled to contain the disease. The outbreaks are spurring University of California scientists to develop more safeguards to protect U.S. poultry from avian influenza.
To prevent outbreaks of this highly contagious virus in the United States, commercial and backyard poultry owners are being asked to fill out an online biosecurity survey. UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Davis researchers are studying poultry-raising practices to help strengthen the industry's defenses against avian influenza.
"With changing migration patterns of wild birds and global movements of poultry, there is an urgent need to develop plans to protect U.S. poultry against highly pathogenic avian influenza," said Beatriz Martínez López, director of the Center for Animal Disease Modeling and Surveillance in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis.
People who raise chickens, quail, ducks, turkeys, geese or other birds anywhere in the United States are invited to fill out the survey.
"We want to hear from all poultry producers: from the large commercial farms producing chicken eggs to the poultry enthusiasts who raise a few ornamental show birds in their backyards," said Martínez López, who is part of the University of California's Agricultural Experiment Station.
The survey asks which bird species are being raised and a few flock management questions. Is the flock is housed or kept outdoors? How often do you get new birds? What is the source of new birds? It also asks questions about location, such as the distance of the birds from ponds and other bodies of water that may attract migrating waterfowl.
Immediately after completing the online survey, participants receive a biosecurity score and recommendations to help them make more informed decisions.
"Each producer will receive their own biosecurity score and customized recommendations," Martínez López said. "Recommendations highly depend on the production system and we tried to adapt them to make the changes easier to implement for individual flocks."
The survey data will be confidential and only summaries will be made publicly available in research reports and peer-reviewed publications.
By analyzing biosecurity and management practices on poultry operations and backyard flocks, Martínez López and visiting professor Sharmin Chowdhury will be able to identify high-risk locations and time periods for avian flu outbreaks. The information will be used to develop biosecurity education programs for poultry farmers, backyard producers and poultry veterinarians.
The survey takes about 15-20 minutes to complete. To participate, visit http://bit.ly/2kkMycf by March 1.
This study is funded by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2015–09118 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Beatriz Martinez López, DVM, firstname.lastname@example.org, (530)752-7675.
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. Learn more at ucanr.edu.
- Author: Gail Feenstra
- Author: Rachel A. Surls
- Author: Shosha Capps
Urban agriculture provides an excellent opportunity to integrate community development and youth empowerment while sharing information about growing food in diverse urban settings. In 2015 and 2016, staff from UC SAREP and UC Cooperative Extension partnered with youth participants and staff at non-profit agencies to offer youth-led tours of local urban farms.
This project gave youth leaders from 10 community-based urban ag organizations an opportunity to share their knowledge and experience with UC personnel, funders, policy makers, urban ag non-profit staff, and other urban farmers. Forty youth ranging from middle school through college age participated in a training on how to tell their personal stories related to urban agriculture before leading tours of their urban farms in the Bay Area, Sacramento and Los Angeles.
Videos documented these efforts, including a visit to young people farming in the Bay Area and a virtual farm tour with youth in Los Angeles. The videos show how powerful this experiential education is for both youth and adults, and how UC can continue to work effectively with our communities to build sustainable food systems.
Other organizations that would like to host a similar youth-led farm tour activity can access the curriculum and trainer's guide below. Funding from UC ANR and the UC Global Food Initiative made this project possible, along with the support of community partners including Community Services Unlimited, Social Justice Learning Institute, WOW Farm, Berkeley Youth Alternatives, Phat Beets Produce, Acta Non Verba, the Yisrael Family Urban Farm, The GreenHouse, the International Garden of Many Colors, Burbank Urban Garden, and Mutual Housing CA.