$102.7 Million Available to Help Expand Specialty Crops

USDA Funding Program to Help Support Local Projects

News Release Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Specialty crop growers in California may be able to use part of the $102.7 million available to support local projects and to help expand markets for specialty crops.

“Every state has agricultural priorities that contribute to the well-being of farm families, consumers and the economic health of rural America,” said Under Secretary Greg Ibach in a recent press release. “These programs target resources to the state, local and regional level where the people who understand the issues best can find solutions that help everyone.”

Resources to be apportioned include:
  • $72.15 million is directed to state departments of agriculture in 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories through the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to support farmers growing specialty crops, including fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, and nursery crops. States use the grant to fund research, agricultural extension activities and programs to increase demand for agricultural goods of value to farmers in the state or territory.
  • $13.35 million is directed to 49 projects supporting direct producer-to-consumer marketing projects such as farmers markets, community-supported agriculture programs, roadside stands, and agri-tourism through the Farmers Market Promotion Program.
  • $13.45 million is directed to 44 projects to support the development and expansion of local and regional food businesses to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products, and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets through the Local Food Promotion Program.
  • $1.1 million is awarded for nine projects through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program to assist in exploring new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products and to encourage research and innovation aimed at improving the efficiency and performance of the marketing system.

For more information about these programs, visit www.ams.usda.gov

CalAgX Training Set to Begin in April

10th Annual CalAgX Training Seminar

 

The California Centers for International Trade Development (CITD) at State Center Community College District has announced the launch of their 10th annual California Agricultural Export (CalAgX) training seminar. A comprehensive export training program, CalAgX was designed to give California agribusiness leaders the tools to market their specialty crops in the food industry.

“CalAgX can provide businesses with the skills they need to become an international phenomenon,” said CITD Director Alicia Rios. “Not only do the sessions provide real life case studies and examples, the sessions are taught by some of the most esteemed professionals in the export industry.”

Held over a span of six weeks at three different locations, CalAgX is an all-inclusive export training program covering topics such as export logistics, terms of sale, legal and cultural aspects of the exporting industry, export payments and finance and credit insurance. CalAgX participants are well prepared to bring their specialty crops to the global market.

This year, CalAgX is set to take place in Clovis, Salinas and Sacramento. Companies that participate should be at least one year old and have less than two years’ worth of export experience.

For more information about CalAgX and registration opportunities, click here: http://fresnocitd.org/services/calagx/.

Farmers Markets Try to Weather the Drought

Source: Ching Lee; Ag Alert

With summer harvest in full swing and farmers markets brimming with the usual variety of produce, the effects of the drought may not be immediately apparent to shoppers–but farmers who work those markets tell a different story.

Kern County farmer Greg Tesch, who works five farmers markets in his region and runs three of them, relies entirely on surface water to farm more than 70 different fruits, vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. Tesch said he’s not selling his usual array of products this year.

He said he couldn’t plant strawberries last fall because the canal that feeds his farm went dry in August. Half his cherry trees did not survive, so he had fewer cherries to sell. And because he did not have water deliveries until mid-March, he was unable to plant certain crops on time, missing an important early-season niche.

“We’re typically able to sell things that are slightly out of season,” he said. “The water wasn’t available, so we had to plant when a lot of other people planted, and so there is less demand for our product at farmers markets, as well as wholesale.”

He said the late start also forced him to lower his prices because he now faces “a glut of produce all at one time” and “competing against stores in the wrong time of year.”

Looking ahead, Tesch said he plans to scale back his vegetable production and plant more deep-rooted crops, most likely cherries on drought-tolerant rootstocks. He said he wants to grow crops that mature in the spring, which he acknowledged will affect his farmers-market business.

Some farmers who have better access to water were not necessarily spared from impacts of the drought. In San Diego County, Eli Hofshi, who uses mainly municipal water for irrigation, said he has stopped watering his winter vegetables and will not harvest them because his water bills have become unaffordable.

He said while certain crops such as tomatoes, squash and trees can handle some water stress, vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts become too bitter if not irrigated. In hindsight, he said he should not have planted the winter vegetables.

“We just didn’t realize it was going to be this costly,” he said. “We planted them last fall and they’ve just now started to produce. So it was a bad mistake. It’s been a double loss by putting the water in, doing the labor.”

With the loss of product, Hofshi said he’s had to buy from other farmers to fill in at his farm stand, but he’s not able to do that at the farmers market, where he’s taking a loss, despite raising prices.

“People are definitely balking at the prices right now,” he said. “They don’t like to pay (more). But we absolutely had to do it, with the cost of water and not to mention we’ve had a minimum-wage increase.”

Fresno County blueberry farmer Kim Sorensen, whose season ended earlier this month, said she also had to raise prices this year—by about 8 percent—to cover some of her higher production costs from having to pump water during the winter. While her customers noticed the price increase, she said most of them understood.

“We lost a little business I think, but not a tremendous amount just because most of what we do is in more affluent areas,” she said.

Farms in other parts of the state where there’s more water also reported increased production costs, with some having to reduce their production or not grow more thirsty crops in order to save water.

San Joaquin County farmer Beatriz Jimenez said she didn’t grow as much okra, eggplant and peppers. Cesar Cuebas, who works for Perry’s Garden Highway Gardens in Sacramento County, said the farm cut at least 30 percent of its production of crops such as sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers and watermelon. And El Dorado County farmer Patrick Hoover said he restricted water on some of his crops, such as apples, and may have smaller fruit this year.

“The drought is not just about water,” said Dan Best, general counsel of the California Federation of Certified Farmers Markets, noting that the warm winter did not give trees such as cherries enough chill hours to set fruit, leaving many growers with a very small crop or nothing to sell.

But for the most part, farmers-market managers reported little change in the amount and variety of products selling at their markets, and said any price increases have been minimal.

Joe Schirmer, who grows a variety of vegetables in Santa Cruz County, said warm, sunny winter weather increased patron attendance at farmers markets, which was good for business. With access to adequate groundwater supplies, he said he was able to extend his growing season during the winter.

“Things really were productive in the wintertime, so we actually did pretty well because of the drought,” he said.

And while having to irrigate through the winter definitely increased his costs, he said the extra production and sales probably resulted in a net gain for his farm.

New Pilot Program Offers Coverage for Fruits and Vegetables, Organic and Diversified Farms

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced a new risk management option that will be available for fruit and vegetable growers and producers with diversified farms.

The policy, called Whole-Farm Revenue Protection, will provide flexible coverage options for specialty crop, organic and diversified crop producers. The program will be implemented in counties across the country and will expand in availability over the next several years.

Whole-Farm insurance allows farmers to insure all crops on their farm at once, rather than insuring commodity by commodity.

Traditionally, many fruit and vegetable crops have not had crop insurance programs designed for them—making it less attractive for a farmer that primarily planted a commodity crop like wheat or corn to use another part of his or her land for growing fruits and vegetables or other specialty crops.

This allows farmers greater flexibility to make planting decisions on their land.

“Crop insurance has been the linchpin of the farm safety net for years and continues to grow as the single most important factor in protecting producers of all sizes from the effects of unpredictable weather,” said Vilsack.

“Providing farmers the option to insure their whole farm at once gives farmers more flexibility, promotes crop diversity, and helps support the production of healthy fruits and vegetables. More flexibility also empowers farmers and ranchers to make a broader range of decisions with their land, helping them succeed and strengthening our agriculture economy.”

The 2014 Farm Bill requires a whole-farm crop insurance policy option, and paves the way for the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to make it broadly available to specialty crop, organic, and diversified growers.

The Federal Crop Insurance Corporation Board of Directors (FCIC Board) approved the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection pilot policy for RMA to offer it through the federal crop insurance program in 2015.

USDA has taken many steps to provide effective insurance coverage for diversified, organic and specialty crops. The whole-farm crop insurance policy provides flexibility to meet the needs of specialty crop growers, organic producers and those with diversified farms, and who have farm production and revenue history, including five years of historic farm tax records. This policy is also part of USDA’s commitment to small and mid-sized producers managing diversified operations.

USDA has been strengthening crop insurance by providing more risk management options for farmers and ranchers.

The policy offers coverage levels from 50 to 85 percent; recognizes farm diversification through qualification for the highest coverage levels along with premium rate discounts for multiple crop diversification.

The Market Readiness Feature, as outlined in the Farm Bill, simplifies insurance coverage for producers under the Whole-Farm Revenue Protection pilot policy by allowing the costs such as washing, trimming, and packaging to be left in the insured revenue instead of having to adjust those amounts out of the insured amount.

The new Whole-Farm Revenue Protection policy combines Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) and AGR-Lite along with several improvements to target diversified farms and farms selling two to five commodities, including specialty crops to wholesale markets.

The new policy is also designed to meet the risk management needs of diversified crop or livestock producers including those growing specialty crops and/or selling to local and regional markets, farm identity preserved markets, or direct markets.

As part of the pilot, Whole-Farm Revenue Protection will be available where AGR and AGR-Lite are currently offered, and will expand to other counties as data are available for underwriting and actuarial ratemaking.

RMA will release information on the policy later this summer when it becomes available. This information will be announced on the RMA website at www.rma.usda.gov.

According to the CDFA, California’s agricultural abundance includes more than 400 commodities. The state produces nearly half of US-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables. Across the nation, US consumers regularly purchase several crops produced solely in California.