This is not the place you would expect to find a commentary on a government program to support small farms.
However, the University of California’s decision to close its small farms program is worthy of a note because once again, California’s fiscal mess extracts a disheartening toll.
Over the years, a few articles have appeared in Western Farm Press on the small farms program, including some from very unusual field days at the UC Kearney Ag Center in Parlier where UC farm advisors have done a lot of unique crop research over the years.
Blueberries are a big deal in California. For years no one thought they would produce in the San Joaquin Valley until Tulare County UC Farm Advisor Manuel Jimenez started experimenting with growing blueberries at Kearney. Blueberries quickly evolved from a small farm crop to a very significant California specialty crop.
Richard Molinar, Jimenez’s counterpart in Fresno County, has been successful in developing many unique oriental vegetable crops. For example, he has been working on what are called mini or personal size melons. Again, it was a small farm project that became a bigger crop for California.
Fresh, roadside stand strawberries are another small farms industry that has flourished in the Central San Joaquin Valley, thanks to efforts of UC farm advisors. In Fresno a small farmer cooperative was started by growers to process strawberries for frozen school snacks.
This program has been a real success story for UC Cooperative Extension. It has impacted all of agriculture in the state with is creativity and mentoring of small farmers. It is sad to see it fade away due to the ineptitude of politicians running this state.
UC Cooperative Extension was once the most envied program of its type in the nation. No longer.
Visiting with Madera County UC Farm Advisor Brent Holtz recently, he said his area of almond crop responsibility now extends from Madera County to Kern County. Three years ago there were three farm advisors for the same area. Kings County Farm Advisor Bob Beede has responsibility for pistachio and walnut crops in the same area. He is doing the job once done by at least three. Holtz and Beede can no longer make farm calls, relying on field days and newsletters to service growers of these important crops.
Beede and Holtz are two of the most productive farm advisors in the state. Their field research and education programs have saved growers literally millions of dollars through increased yields and reduced production costs.
The story is the same up and down the state. UC and its Cooperative Extension offices are the cornerstone of one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world through talented, dedicated farm advisors and specialists.
To see it slowly erode is just as irresponsible as the failure to solve the state’s water crisis.