Monday, November 26, 2007

Solano Farmers want more bang for buck & Diversity a dilemma in farm economy

Farmers want more bang for buck

Larry Clement sees the future of Solano County agriculture as involving more than growing crops. Perhaps a community crush facility in Suisun Valley could someday allow small grape growers there to make wine. Or maybe the county gets more processing facilities.. 'That's 'value-added.''

A recent study shows that for every $1 generated by a raw county farm product, another 58 cents is added to the local economy by processing and other activities. Statewide, the average is $2 added for every $1 of farm products. So 'value-added' has become the watchword in the effort to boost Solano County's flagging farm economy. The quest is on to capture more money from the final product bought by consumers.

The county is wrestling with the issue during its General Plan update. For guidance, it has a new report by the U.C. Agricultural Issues Center and another by a General Plan advisory citizens agriculture subcommittee headed by Clement. At issue is the future of the county's $370 million annual farm economy a figure that includes both farms products and related businesses as well as the open spaces and views in the rural areas that are enjoyed by many city dwellers.

Both studies talk about trying to get more processing facilities and outlets in the county to capture more of the farm dollar.. Other counties treat agriculture more as a business, he said. Solano County has a history of trying to preserve agriculture through laws restricting rural development, but Clement also sees the business side as important..

Diversity a dilemma in farm economy

Solano County farms are located in such diverse areas as Ryer Island amid the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Valley amid coastal hills that resemble the Napa area. That makes finding ways to boost the farm economy a challenge. What works for the walnut orchards near Winters may have no relevance for sheep grazing in the Montezuma Hills. 'I think the concept of 'one size fits all' is pretty much dead,' said Larry Clement, a former farm adviser with the U.C. Cooperative Extension. 'I don't think we'll go back to that.

Too many people think that's not right. We've got a tremendous number of microclimates, for example.' A new report by the U.C. Agricultural Issues Center divides the county into nine farming areas.

The areas, along with some potential farming challenges listed in the report, are:

-- Dixon Ridge Some 63,000 acres of flat Central Valley farmland with fertile soils near Dixon..
-- Elmira and Maine Prairie More flat Central Valley farmland extending from central to eastern Solano County and covering about 75,000 acres..
-- Montezuma Hills Windswept hills dominate these 58,000 acres near Rio Vista and the confluence of the Sacramento-San Joaquin rivers..
-- Ryer Island A 23,768-acre Delta island behind levees that is reached by ferry..
-- Suisun and Green valleys Valleys totaling more than 10,000 acres bordered by steep hills give Solano County a touch of Napa wine country..
-- Winters Putah Creek runs through this 6,400-acre area near the Yolo County city..
-- Jepson Prairie Clay-lined vernal pools and Delta sloughs are major features in the 52,000-acre area..
-- Pleasants, Vaca and Lagoon valleys Valleys totaling about 4,341 acres near the Vaca mountains..
-- Western hills A range of hills and mountains that form the boundary with Napa County, totaling some 78,000 acres..

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