300 Latino farmers listened carefully to five of their peers, three men and two women, as they shared problems they encounter in the field, such as climate change, labor, and the cost of water, among other topics.
For the women, the biggest challenge is to get ahead and be taken seriously in a male-dominated field. "It is a huge challenge as a Latina in a male-dominated environment like agriculture," said María Inés Catalán, a farmer in San Benito County.
There are 14,000 Latino farmers in California, and according to Carlos Suarez, state director of Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), the number could be higher. NRCS is a federal agency that provides technical and farmer assistance and is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
35 organizations were involved in the Conference this year, including government agencies that offered all kinds of information, community agencies, and several University of California Cooperative Extension specialists. Irwin Donis, Assistant Postharvest Engineering Specialist in Cooperative Extension, was one of them; He gave a workshop on the use of technology in agriculture. Donis stated that 70 percent of his working time he speaks Spanish.
The Conference was an intense learning experience for one day, with a wide variety of topics such as irrigation, evaporation, compost, marketing, access to credit, pesticides, and new regulations for groundwater sustainability, risk management, and harassment.
Another UCCE specialist Teresa Andrews of UC Davis Center for Health and the Environment who spoke about harassment, topic that captured the attention of all the attendees.
Ruth Dahlquist-Willard, agricultural advisor for Fresno County UC Cooperative Extension, explained a new water management law that will take effect next year. It is a law that arises as a result of drought, depletion of aquifers, and the crucial need to care for water.
For these Latino farmers, one thing was very clear by the end of the Conference: the biggest problems they face are financing and lack of marketing support.
"Marketing is the hardest thing for the producer because the price does not depend on the farmer. It is the market that controls it," said María Inés Catalán. "The economy is changing, there are more and smaller producers, and we need to know how to prepare to sell because the whole business depends on it."
The statewide sustainable agriculture conference for Spanish-speaking farmers was sponsored by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and NRCS. The annual conference brings together the Latino farming community with the agricultural industry, advocates for sustainability and agribusiness for a day of workshops, networking and learning from fellow farmers.