Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources

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AgPlus Funders Forum aims to improve access to agricultural business financing

In a working session, AgPlus Funders Forum participants split into groups to focus on identifying opportunities for supporting economic development, supporting small business, effective intermediaries and regional finance funds.

To enhance funding for food and agriculture businesses in the Central Valley, more than 60 people involved in small business finance gathered at the AgPlus Funders Forum Dec. 12 to contribute ideas.

Representatives from financial institutions, economic development organizations, universities, government agencies and innovative funders like community development financial institutions (CDFI) attended. Participants shared innovative financing tools for business and discussed obstacles for people in rural communities to access capital at the forum at the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources building in Davis. 

Two primary challenges faced by people trying to start a new business are figuring out how to get started – such as their supply chain – and gaining access to capital to finance their endeavor, according to keynote speaker Glenda Humiston, University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources.

“There are actually an array of sources of capital beyond just the traditional bank loan, the problem is people don't know about them or how to access them,” Humiston said. She added that much more capital could be available to Central Valley businesses if residents would invest locally. “If you had brought home just one percent of the retirement accounts held by people in the AgPLUS region back in 2010, you would have had over $1 billion to invest in this region,” she said.

There are many funding sources that people aren't aware of, says Glenda Humiston

Marc Nemanic of 3CORE, Carrie Ellinwood of U.S. Small Business Administration, Ismael Herrero of Fresno State's Office of Community and Economic Development, and Catherine Howard of Northern California Community Loan Fund discussed some of the challenges for financing new businesses and alternatives to traditional bank loans.

Nemanic noted that many millennials are carrying student loan debt, which may make them averse to taking on more debt or prevent them from qualifying for business loans. 

Howard said her organization is creating a tool to help people satisfy collateral requirements for credit.

To build their businesses, entrepreneurs often need technical assistance so Herrera's office pairs young companies with experienced mentors and other services. Herrera said he is working to create public and private partnerships in rural communities, such as commercial kitchens for people to turn farm produce into value-added products to sell at farmers markets.

Panelists pointed out that jobs in the gig economy, such as driving for Uber or Lyft, don't provide the stable income that tradition lenders seek in borrowers so they need to create a flexible product.

Meg Arnold, far left, moderated a panel discussion on challenges for financing new businesses. From left, Marc Nemanic, Carrie Ellinwood, Ismael Herrero and Catherine Howard.

In the afternoon, participants split into four groups to focus on identifying opportunities for supporting economic development, supporting small business and microenterprises, effective intermediaries to connect investors with entrepreneurs, and regional finance funds. Each topic was discussed by a diverse group of people as peers and experts, bringing their own expertise to the table.

To address the interplay between higher education, student debt and the structural changes in the nation's economy, Meg Arnold, who moderated the session, said she could foresee policy implications.

“Student debt is not forgivable,” said Arnold, managing director of Valley Vision. “At the same time we are making a four-year university degree both more necessary and less affordable, the economy is also changing, to the point that some graduates may need to think of self-employment or gig economy employment.”

CalFOR reportThe discussions identified many other challenges for the food and agriculture sectors in rural parts of the state that need to be overcome to access capital.

“We need everybody who participated today to share those examples of where something kind of unique or innovative is really working,” said Humiston.

Ideas generated during the forum will be used to inform the work of the Central Valley AgPLUS Food and Beverage Manufacturing Consortium, which hosted the AgPlus Funders Forum. The information will also be used by Humiston to update the 2012 Access to Capital Report by California Financial Opportunities Roundtable (CalFOR). The report highlights financial needs for businesses in California, reviews financial tools and capital sources and provides policy recommendations. Humiston will also convey the outcomes to the California Economic Summit.

The AgPlus Funders Forum was sponsored by Chase Bank, Valley Vision, the Center for Economic Development, First Northern Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Employment Training Panel, Blue Tech Valley, Fresno State Community and Economic Development and UC ANR.

 

Posted on Friday, December 15, 2017 at 1:10 PM

California’s nascent coffee industry to hold summit Jan. 18

Jay Ruskey, left, and Mark Gaskell, shown at a coffee tasting in 2015. They planted their first California coffee field trial in 2002.
Coffee is being commercially grown in California and coffee drinkers can't get enough of the locally produced beverage, which currently retails for about $18 per cup. Anyone who is interested in growing, processing or marketing specialty coffee in California is invited to a Coffee Summit on Jan. 18 at Cal Poly Pomona.

Until recently, American coffee was grown commercially only in Hawaii. To make the most of their precious water, California farmers have begun experimenting with coffee plantings and producing beans that fetch a premium.

“There are about 30,000 coffee trees now planted on about 30 farms and that acreage will continue to grow during 2018 with programmed new plantings,” said Mark Gaskell, UC Cooperative Extension advisor who works with coffee growers in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. “Only a relatively small amount of the planted acreage is now producing, but the market interest and demand continue to outpace anticipated new production for the foreseeable future.” 

At the Coffee Summit, participants will learn about new opportunities for this high-value crop from industry professionals. Summit topics will include development of estate coffee, coffee production, pests and diseases, processing methods and marketing.

Coffee is planted from Morro Bay to San Diego, with production concentrated in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Diego counties, according to Gaskell.

Coffee interplanted with established avocado orchards requires no additional land, water or fertilizer.

California coffee industry leaders from Santa Barbara and San Diego counties and agriculture professionals with University of California Cooperative Extension, University of Hawaii and U.S. Department of Agriculture will give presentations and answer questions.

Good Land Organics grower Jay Ruskey, who has been growing coffee in Santa Barbara County since 2002, and Gaskell will discuss growing coffee in California.

Based on their coffee variety research trials, UC Cooperative Extension advisors Ramiro Lobo and Gary Bender, both based in San Diego County, and Duncan McKee of Cal Poly Pomona will discuss which varieties are suitable for production in California.

“We are working collaboratively with UC Cooperative Extension to determine the best coffee varieties for our area,” said Valerie J. Mellano, Cal Poly Pomona professor and chair of the Plant Science Department. “Much of the California coffee is grown along the more coastal areas, but we are really interested in determining what will do well in the more inland areas, where it is a little hotter in the summer and a little colder in the winter.

“We are starting the second year of our trial and will be able to see how certain varieties hold up in the colder weather this winter, but we will not have any coffee yield data for a couple more years.”

Andy Mullins of Frinj Coffee, a cooperative of 24 farms including Good Land Organics, will discuss business and marketing opportunities for new California coffee growers.

The Inaugural Coffee Summit will be hosted by the Huntley College of Agriculture on Jan. 18, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the AgriScapes Conference Center at Cal Poly Pomona. Registration is $75 and includes a continental breakfast, lunch and coffee tasting. For more information and registration, visit http://bit.ly/2jtXyFP.

 

Related reading:

California Coffee http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/uc2/2015/03/california_coffee.html

Your coffee is from where? California https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/26/business/your-coffee-is-from-where-california.html?_r=0

Farmer breaks ground with California-grown coffee success https://www.cbsnews.com/videos/18-cup-of-california-grown-coffee-sparks-industry-interest/

Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 3:28 PM

Six tips to make gift cards a great present

For the 11th year in a row, the most popular item on holiday wish lists is gift cards. According to a 2017 National Retail Federation Survey, 61 percent of respondents wished for gift cards, while 55 percent listed clothing and accessories and 39 percent would like books, music or movies.

“In the past, gift cards may not have seemed like a very thoughtful gesture,” said Patti Wooten Swanson, consumer sciences advisor with UC Cooperative Extension in San Diego County. “But today, it's what people want.”

By opting for gift cards, shoppers can avoid crowded malls.

Wooten Swanson has a Ph.D. in consumer science from Texas Women's University in Denton, Texas. She is the author of a seven-part series of financial caregiving publications and is co-chair of the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources Money Talks workgroup, which created a Money Talks website that helps teens and young adults learn to manage their finances.

Gift cards are subject to several consumer protection laws. The federal government mandates that retail gift cards (for a specific merchant or company) and bank-issued gift cards are valid for five years from date of purchase. In California, state law stipulates that most gift cards cannot expire or charge a service fee.

A survey by Consumer Reports found that 10 percent of gift card value typically goes unused. The magazine suggests cash or a check are great alternatives, but Wooten Swanson says she still sometimes opts for gift cards.

“Cash can tend to be used for everyday things,” Wooten Swanson said. “If I want my dad to enjoy a meal at his favorite restaurant, I would give a gift card for the specific restaurant.”

Gift card kiosks are conveniently located in grocery stores, drug stores and big-box retailers.

Wooten Swanson offers the following suggestions for ensuring successful gift card experiences:

  1. If you receive a gift card, use it as quickly as possible. If the retailer goes out of business, the card will have no value. “Also, it's easy to misplace or forget about the card,” Wooten Swanson said.

  2. Consumers' first choice when selecting gift cards should be those offered by specific retail stores (and their affiliates) or restaurants, Wooten Swanson recommends. “Generally, there are no fees for purchasing them either at the retail outlet, online or at a gift card kiosk in the grocery store,” she said. “The card is valid for at least five years and, by law, no inactivity fees can be charged during the first 12 months.”

  3. Before buying the gift card, Wooten Swanson suggests looking carefully at the back to be sure that the hidden card number that is usually underneath scratch-off ink has not been exposed. “To steal the value on cards, thieves can copy down the hidden code number at the store. After the card is purchased and funded, the thief can use the code for online purchases, making the card worthless for the person who receives the gift,” she said.

  4. Always include the store receipt in the gift along with the card. If the gift card is lost or stolen, the recipient can call the company to see if it can be replaced.

  5. Only purchase gift cards from sources you know are reputable. Some websites allow consumers to buy gift cards at a discount and sell unwanted gift cards at an amount below the face value. “You want to be dealing with a known company to be sure you're getting the real thing,” Wooten Swanson said. She recommends consumers interested in discounted gift cards instead visit big box retailers like Costco or Sams Club, where packets of gift cards are available at a discount.

  6. Carefully read the conditions attached to bank or credit card company gift cards. They can be used almost anywhere the recipient would like to spend the funds, but most charge a fee to purchase the card and, after 12 months of inactivity, can charge a monthly fee by reducing the balance on the card. “This year many restaurants and retailers are reward those who buy the card with a BOGO bonus. The bonus gift cards obtained often do have an expiration date,” Wooten Swanson said. “Some may not be redeemable immediately.”
Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 1:10 PM

Expanding access to the California Naturalist community

Since the inception of the California Naturalist program in 2012, we have been committed to embracing inclusion in all its forms and creating an open, diverse, and equitable community. It is embedded in our mission to foster a diverse community of naturalists and promote stewardship of California's natural resources through education and service. With 10 bioregions and over 39 million people, California is a diverse state naturally and culturally, and we are striving to provide greater access for underserved populations to this new statewide education and service program. 

There are several ways in which we're addressing this critical work. One approach is identifying gaps in who we're reaching so we can prioritize filling those gaps. Using GIS to integrate environment, health and socioeconomic data from Cal Enviroscreen, the program prioritizes gaps in our geographic coverage and areas with the most disadvantaged communities.

To reach these communities we are working to expand partnerships with community colleges and organizations offering workforce development. California Naturalist certification can be integrated into a college course and to engage students embarking on their careers or those learning new skills for a change in career or work. For example, Pasadena City College offers certification as a part of their field biology class. Students gain valuable hands-on experiences, build their resume, and make connections to the wider naturalist community.

National Forest Foundation conducts California Naturalist courses in conjunction with young adult leadership development programs, which enhances seasonal work assignments as interpreters and stewards with the US Forest Service in Southern California.

We also work with institutions that focus on training young underserved adults. For instance, Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) in Greater Los Angeles incorporated California Naturalist into “Bridge to Park Careers,” a competitive 20-week training program that equipped young adults from urban areas with knowledge and multiple certifications needed to secure jobs as educators and naturalists with park agencies. We maintain this program partnership with nonprofit Community Nature Connection, who continues the educational programming previously conducted under MRCA.

Finally, scholarships are available in many locations to cover program fees for participants. To further increase scholarship opportunities, we are excited to announce our newest initiative, the California Naturalist Scholarship Fund. The fund will help break down barriers people face in accessing the program, off-set course participation costs, and ultimately build a more inclusive community of naturalists. In 2016, 29 percent of California Naturalist course participants and 21 percent of statewide conference attendees received a need-based scholarship to attend courses and training events.

2018 holds much promise for strengthening our commitment to inclusion. As we enter the holiday season and prepare for the new year, please consider giving the gift of knowledge and the spark of curiosity. Together we can help protect and preserve nature by engaging more Californians in stewardship, discovery, and action.

The 2017 SPAWN (Salmon Protection & Watershed Network) California Naturalist course was designed to support more diverse leadership development in Bay Area parks and environmental education programs. It was geared toward teachers and educators.
Posted on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 8:37 AM

California touts benefits of healthy soils in week-long celebration

Soil health informational panels adorning the wall just outside Governor Brown’s office remind visitors of the value and importance of soil health.

On the fifth anniversary of the United Nations' recognition of Dec. 5 as World Soils Day and just in time for the California Department of Food and Agriculture's awarding of $5.23 million in funding to promote the adoption of soil health conservation practices, the California's Healthy Soil Initiative celebrated its first ever California Healthy Soils Week.

For most, that might not sound like a holiday worthy of week-long festivities (a celebration style often reserved for birthdays), but to the passionate folks who've spent the last three years building the nation's leading climate-smart agricultural program, it marks the beginning of a new story of how California agriculture can contribute to feeding the world, saving water and cleaning our air, all while fighting climate change and buffering against its negative effects.

Jenny Lester Moffit led a legislative staff briefing on soil health.As the inaugural year's theme “Healthy Soils = Healthy Lives” implies, soil health and human health are one and the same. So, in an effort to educate Californians on how vital soil truly is, the week focused on “highlight[ing] all the remarkable gifts healthy soils have to offer,” as CDFA Secretary Karen Ross commented.

From Dec. 4 to 7, CDFA, in partnership with a broad swath of stakeholder groups ranging from state organizations to the private sector (Fibershed, including Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California Farm Bureau, CalCAN, CA Resource Conservation Districts, Roots of Change, and Fibershed, hosted a variety of panels, webinars, and tours to better demonstrate what soil health actually is, what it looks like, how to promote it, as well as barriers to adoption and on-farm challenges.

CDFA kicked off the week by unveiling a series of Healthy Soils Information Panels directly outside Governor Jerry Brown's office. The information panels included an Natural Resources Conservation Service-inspired infographic defining healthy soils as a dynamic interface of the four elements, containing approximately 45 percent minerals, 5 percent organics, 25 percent air, and 25 percent water and teeming with life on the order of 100 million to 1 billion individual bacteria per teaspoon. The next few banners featured the major benefits of healthy soils.  Quite simply: More food. Less water-use. Cleaner air. Healthier planet. The last banner brings it all home with a case-study of all-star farmer, Jesse Sanchez, once honored in Washington, DC as a “Champion of Change.”  

Farmers Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut Company, Michael Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy and Bruce Rominger of Rominger Brothers Farms discussed benefits and challenges of no-till farming.

Dec. 5 – the official World Soils Day – was jam packed, starting with a 9 a.m. webcast on Climate Smart Agriculture, followed by a legislative staff briefing led by CDFA Deputy Secretary Jenny Lester Moffitt, and a reception to celebrate the connection between soil and food by indulging in the fruits of California agriculture. The briefing included two discussion panels -- one that featured scientists including UC Cooperative Extension advisors Daniel Munk and Glenn McGourty, East Stanislaus Regional Conservation District agent Jeff Borum and Margaret Smither-Kopperl of the USDA-NRCS Plant Materials Center, and one that featured pioneering farmers, Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut Company, Michael Crowell of Bar-Vee Dairy, and Bruce Rominger of Rominger Brother's Farms. The growers discussed the benefits and challenges of no-till farming, or conservation agriculture, on their own farms.

The next day turned a bit more hands-on, with California EPA and CalRecycle helping deliver bags of compost, along with educational materials to legislative offices and with tours taking legislators out into the field -- first to the Recology compost facility, and then to Sierra Orchards where some of that compost ends up.

Legislators took a tour of the Recology compost facility and to Sierra Orchards, where some of that compost ends up

Capping it all off, Southern California got looped into the festivities with a tour of the Urban Farm in Los Angeles and keeping in the urban food systems theme, Sacramento Food Policy Group and ReSoil Sac hosted one last panel and reception at Hot Italian, a local restaurant that sources seasonally fresh, California-grown ingredients and is committed to improving communities and the environment. And it's not just talk, these guys walk the walk with a worm-bin on site to help process their waste into a valuable resource for local growers. 

Throughout the week, the message was clear: the California Healthy Soils Initiative is here to stay. And while it might take an internationally recognized holiday or a statewide weekly celebration to remind us, soils are the foundation of life, of agriculture, and their health is inextricably linked to that of our own. As Rory Crowley of Niclaus Nut company reminded us, “Every day is World Soil Day on the farm.”

 

Posted on Monday, December 11, 2017 at 11:00 AM
  • Author: Jessica Chiartas

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