- Author: Dan Macon
If you're an alumnus of our Farm Business Planning Short Course, you'll be familiar with the acronyms WOTB and WITB (coined by the Ranching for Profit school). Most of us who farm or ranch prefer WITB - Working in the Business. These are tasks like transplanting tomatoes, moving sheep, or pruning apple trees. WITB, for most of us, is the kind of work that drew us to farming or ranching in the first place. WOTB - Working on the Business - often seems dull by comparison. WOTB includes activities like business planning, developing new markets, or succession planning. WOTB often involves sitting at our computers or (heaven forbid) talking to our partners or families about the farm or ranch.
Despite my dislike of WOTB work, I find that working on the business is crucial to my ranch business' success. Intentionally carving out time each month for WOTB work helps make sure I don't neglect this important work. One of the speakers at the Sheep Industry Innovators Conference offered a new insight to one of the most critical pieces of WOTB work - updating our business plans.
Steve Elliott, Global Minerals Manager for a firm called Alltech, suggested that all businesses (not just farms and ranchers, but perhaps most importantly so) should ask four questions on an annual basis:
- Where are we now?
- Where have we come from?
- Where do we want to go?
- How will we get there?
For me, these questions offer a simple, well-structured approach to evaluating our businesses. They help place questions about new production systems, marketing strategies, and capital purchases in the context of our long-term business goals. We'll be using these questions this fall when we analyze our own sheep ranching enterprise.
Mr. Elliott also talked about the difference between innovation and disruption - high-tech terms that I had never thought much about in a small-farm context. Innovation, he said, is doing something new that improves on the old way of doing things. Disruption, on the other hand, is doing something new that makes the old way obsolete. I'm still thinking on this concept - what are the new approaches or new technologies that will disrupt your approach to farming or ranching?
Finally, Mr. Elliott suggested that our creativity is improved when we slow down. I know that for me, a quiet walk is good for my body and my mind. I often think more clearly about difficult problems when I'm away from my desk. This fall, when we focus on our WOTB work for our sheep operation, I'm going to suggest that we take a walk - I suspect we'll be more creative without the distractions of emails, cell phones, or even sheep work!
My point to all of this is to remind us all about the importance of stepping back and working on (rather than in) our businesses. I raise sheep because I love the day-to-day work. I'll only get to continue raising sheep if I pay attention to the needs of my business.
- Author: Hannah Meyer
At a recent beginning farming workshop, that was the exact question that was posed to an earnest group of beginning farmers. Many of you may have similar questions so this post answers a few of them. If you have more questions about beginning farming, come to the next workshop this fall, which will be announced on our Foothill Farming website calendar.
- How do I get into an association for the crops I want to grow or am growing?
There are a number of organizations for a variety of locally grown crops, most would be happy to help a new, teachable farmer learn and understand some of the specifics about their crop and provide networking opportunities. Here is a list of a few local, crop specific organizations that you could join. Also feel free to look under resources on the Foothill Farming website for more information about your potential crop.
- California Wool Growers Association – http://woolgrowers.org/
- Mountain Mandarin Growers Association - http://www.mountainmandarins.com/
- Placer County Vintner's Association - https://placerwine.com/placer-county-vintners-association/
- Placer County Wine & Grape Association - http://pcwga.org/
- Sierra Wine & Grape Growers Association - http://swgga.org/
- Tahoe Cattlemen's Association - https://www.facebook.com/TCA-Tahoe-Cattlemens-Association-180625651975901/
Regardless of whether or not you see your crop-specific producers association above, there are also a few other local options to connect you with other farmers and ranchers.
- California Certified Organic Farmers, Sierra Gold Chapter - https://www.ccof.org/ccof/chapters/sierra-gold
The other questions pertain to water, you can guess why. Water is critical to agriculture in the foothills and its availability to your farm is key to deciding how, when, and what you can potentially raise or grow.
- Did local irrigation districts reduce deliveries during the last drought?
Most agriculture in the foothills depends on ditch water from local irrigation districts. It takes approximately 1 miner's inch of water to irrigate 1.5 – 2 acres of pasture or about 1 acre of crops during the hot summer months. During the last drought, irrigation districts asked their customers to voluntarily conserve water, and they did. No reductions were forced. Thankfully we are no longer in a drought and both the Nevada Irrigation District and Placer County Water Association plan for full water deliveries this irrigation season, which runs from April to October.
- If I need irrigation district water past October, do I need to buy the entire 6 months of winter water?
Perennial crops often require winter irrigation water due to intermittent rains in many recent winters. NID offers a fall water supply for Oct. 15 through Dec. 1. It is important to bear in mind that winter water is usually more expensive than normal irrigation water, about 125% of normal rates and is not feasible in most cropping systems. Contact your irrigation district to inquire about the availability of winter water and how much water would be available to you during the normal irrigation season.
- Nevada Irrigation District - https://nidwater.com/
- Placer County Water Agency - https://pcwa.net
- What are the dangers of creek water?
Unless you have a deeded right to use water from creeks or streams on your property, you cannot use that water. Most producers get irrigation water from an irrigation district.
Creek water or other surface water is potentially subject to contamination from wildlife, domestic animals, or other sources and is considered a food safety risk for irrigating agricultural crops. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Rule has specific rules and guidelines for water used on crops. For more information about the FSMA, check out the Food and Drug Administration website at https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/FSMA/default.htm
- Author: Hannah Meyer
Growing mandarins in the foothills often produces a tantalizing crop of fruit that delights even the pickiest of connoisseurs, however, it is not produced without difficulty. UCCE Placer/Nevada has collaborated with five local citrus growers to research the effects of pruning to thin canopy and mulching to conserve soil moisture and create a healthier root zone. To learn more about this project, read Citrus Grower Bob Bonk's blog post, Mandarin Growers Test New Practices on the Foothill Farming blog. Research began just over a year ago and here are some of the things we have learned so far.
Mulch under citrus trees helps maintain soil moisture, reduces soil temperatures, and can effectively manage weed growth.
Methods: Mulch is best applied when the soil is saturated. Typically mulch is applied in March/April in this region but can be applied later if soil is irrigated to saturation level. Mulching is most effective for weed suppression when either little to no weed emergence has occurred, weed whacking, or herbicide spray is implemented first. Mulch alone reduces weed growth. Mulch applied over builder's paper or 6-8 sheets of newspaper then saturated to conform to the ground is even more effective. Fertilizer is best applied before mulching.
Materials: A 50/50 wood chip and horse manure blend is used in the research trials but either one can be used on its own. Composted manure alone decomposes rapidly, a mix of manure with wood chips will last longer. Wood chips last longer than either the wood chip/manure mix or manure alone but will provide little to no nutrient value to the tree.
We have observed that often irrigation with overhead sprinklers does not penetrate dense tree canopies and may lead to water stress. Tensiometers, which measure soil moisture, were installed in citrus orchards in summer 2017. They showed that overhead irrigation water was not reaching the ground under dense canopies, causing water stress in hot weather. As a result of some of this research, several commercial citrus growers have modified irrigation practices or are changing irrigation systems to mitigate water stress.
Looking to the future:
Soil temperature can affect root activity so beginning this year soil temperature are also being monitored throughout the research project. Citrus growers are attending workshops, field meetings, and learning what the orchard trials are teaching us. Many are implementing new methods and practices in their citrus operations. Citrus trials will continue at least through 2019. Look for more information in future blogs.
Commercial growers are invited to participate in a Composting & Mulching Workshop on Thursday, May 31st, 9 AM to 12 noon, register at this link. http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=24853
- Author: Hannah Meyer
It is the time of year when most people with any interest in the outdoors begin thinking about planting something. The last blog post introduced local farmer, Paul Glowaski co-owner of Dinner Bell Farm, as he reflects on the challenges of starting a farm in the foothills.
- Land acquisition – check out some of the resources below to connect with networks to assist in acquiring land or use of land.
- Growth – After acquiring land, consider if the enterprise will have room to grow, or scale up. Will the farm be able to keep up with the product demand on a couple of acres?
- Market development – Although it may be ideal to start selling agriculture products at the largest Saturday farmer's market in the community, new farms often are required to start at small markets until there is available space and demand for their product elsewhere. There are also many other direct marketing options to consider, such as farm stands, restaurants, wholesalers, and co-ops.
- Labor – Minimum wage in California is $10.50 per hour this year. Will skilled labor be available at this wage?
- Quality – Increasing access to agriculture products from throughout the world makes it is extremely important to maintain the highest levels of quality in local markets.
- Ideals – Most beginning farmers need to work off-farm jobs in addition to putting in the long hours required to make a farm thrive. Glowaski stressed, “Don't feel bad about that - it is a reality to starting a farm in the 21st century. I started farming because I wanted to feed poor people…right now we sell to the very affluent to survive.” Again, farming is humbling, be willing to adapt and change.
- Cash flow - Seasons are not just for veggies, what will ensure cash flow during the winter/ off season on the farm?
If you are feeling discouraged, rest assured that you are in a great community and resources are available to help you, like UC Cooperative Extension's Beginning Farming Academy. Glowaski has worked in the Santa Cruz area, where the cut-throat competitive attitude in the agriculture community did not appeal to his value system. “The reality is we all sell to a small fraction of the community up here.” Some of the value, especially in the foothills, is a general sense of a desire among farmers to help each other. If you are interested in getting to know the local farming community and grow your network of roots throughout the farming community, consider the UCCE workshops and dinners, FarmLink, or join a group such as the National Young Farmers Coalition, the Center for Agroecology at UCSC, or the Farm Bureau. Glowaski warns farmers against only connecting with groups that they completely agree with, “If you aren't at the table, we can't talk about it,” he says with a smile. Be humble and open to conversation and gleaning what you can from those in your biosphere! Once you become established, you may want to join with groups that share some of your core values such as California Certified Organic Farmers or Animal Welfare Approved, like Dinner Bell Farm.
Although the challenges of farming may seem insurmountable at times, a true farmers heart has unconditional love for the land, hard work, and a deep appreciation for the success those afford, which are often measured in treasures that can't buy a vacation to the pacific islands! Glowaski's advice, “Go for it!” Be sure to investigate the resources below.
- Training - Keep a lookout on the Foothill Farming Website for upcoming trainings. Like the Wool Handing and Shearing Management Workshop on May 12th! More information and resources here!
- Quiz - Should you Farm? – Do you have what it takes?
- Risk Management – Be prepared ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/Farm_Business_Planning/FBP_Risk_Management/
- Finding Land to Farm: Six Ways to Secure Farmland - By Kendra Johnson, California FarmLink www.attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/PDF/ﬁnding.pdf
- Farm Loan Information - The Farm Service Agency can be a valuable resource for starting a farm including but not limited to microloans. - https://www.fsa.usda.gov/programs-and-services/farm-loan-programs/microloans/index **Click to find a service center near you.
- Video - See and hear what Bear Creek Organics suggests for new farmers. https://www.youtube.com/embed/ri2vUNABtqE
- Author: Hannah Meyer
In my recent interview with Paul Glowaski of Dinner Bell Farm, co-owner of a pig and flower farm in Chicago Park that has been in business for 9 years, he gave insight into some of the values and challenges associated with becoming a farmer in the foothills. He highly recommended the book of short accounts written by seasoned farmers called “Letters to a Young Farmer,” for anybody who is considering or who is a farmer. You may have recognized the similarity in the title of this blog, Glowaski coined the phrase, “Letters from a Young Farmer.”
Glowaski recognizes the wealth of information, mistakes to learn from, as well as solid production advances that the younger generation has to offer and wishes they would be shared more readily with other new farmers. “We all make mistakes…having a shared understanding is valuable.” That being said, Glowaski also highly recommends tapping into the knowledge of “old-timers” because although many of us have agriculture in our history somewhere, it may have skipped a generation and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes.
In addition to farmers, your neighbors may be part of your team. Many “in the prime of their life” Glowaski said, who want to help young people who desire to do something great, like start a new farm. Take a moment to think of all the mechanics, gardeners, truck drivers, cooks, teachers, neighbors, and even wealthy retired folks who can be valuable resources to a young farmer, especially in the area of community and moral support. Community is essential, especially on those days when things seem to go wrong all at once. “Sometimes you have to dig deep” especially when it comes to an operation that you financially will need to depend on.
The challenges of starting a farm in the foothills must not be underestimated. Planning is extremely important, “We met for three years before starting the farm - we called it the dream farm,” Glowaski said of Dinner Bell. He credited that crucial time of planning as a large part of why they still exist as a viable farm today. Farming is extremely dynamic, the farmer must remain adaptable and humble in the process that forges out a farm. “We aren't doing anything we started with,” Glowaski stated as he reflected on the changing markets and the succession of products Dinner Bell Farm has produced over the years. He identifies with Dan Macon's “Small Farm Evolution in Five Easy Steps.” More candidly, farming is humbling. Glowaski expressed three values held by Dinner Bell, which are important to consider for all new farmers; ecological sustainability, economic viability, and social sustainability. Can a farm buying at retail prices, selling at wholesale prices expect to make a profit? If a farm is socially accepted and ecologically responsible but not economically viable, it will not survive.
Look for more posts about beginning farming coming soon!
- Letters to a Young Farmer - by Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture(Compiler), Martha Hodgkins(Editor). Click here to find it on Amazon.
- USDA New Farmers Webpage - https://newfarmers.usda.gov/
- UCCE Beginning Farm Planning – “I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower http://ucanr.edu/sites/placernevadasmallfarms/NewFarmers/Beginning_Farm_Planning/
- Important Considerations – a list of questions that could help you decide when and where to start. https://newfarmers.usda.gov/important-considerations