Friday, December 14, 2007

Summit: County Farming Industry Both Unique And Complex

Summit: County Farming Industry Both Unique And Complex
By Barry Eberling | DAILY REPUBLIC | December 13, 2007 15:15

Carolyn Woytek of El Dorado Hills picks some produce at Parker Farms earlier this year. File photo.

FAIRFIELD - Community and business leaders attending the third Solano Economic Summit Thursday heard a variety of possible steps to make farming and ranching thrive in the county.

'Agriculture is a business never forget that,' said Kurt Richter of the University of California Agricultural Issues Center.

The region needs to keep its agricultural processing plants and build more, Richter said. Farmers need to be plugged into politics. City dwellers need to appreciate agriculture and support it. Solano County will have to make some tough land use decisions, he said.

And county decisions on agriculture need to be driven by good data and information, the type of information that has been lacking, he said.

Richter and colleague Al Sokolow are changing that. They have just finished a study on Solano County farming that ended up being four studies. The county Board of Supervisors will hear the results in January.

But farming is hardly monolithic locally, making easy answers hard to come by. Richter and Sokolow ended up dividing the county into nine farming regions, ranging from Suisun and Green valleys to Winters, the Dixon Ridge and the western coastal hills. Each is unique, with different soil qualities, topography and weather.

'Solano County agriculture is really complex,' Richter said.

Among the challenges the studies found facing farming in some areas is housing development not necessarily from cities, but rural residential development. Richter mentioned the western edge of the fertile Dixon-Vacaville farming area near Interstate 505 as an example.

The county can help the farming economy by getting another nursery or more dairies, he said. Nursery products were the top commodity in 2006. Should a dairy come to the Elmira area, it could use the alfalfa and other crops grown there and provide a tremendous boost, he said.

Middle Green Valley has become a tough environment for traditional farming, Richter said. But Suisun Valley has wineries that are producing luxury-class and ultra-premium wines, he said.

'The corner is turning in Suisun Valley,' he said.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Mike Reagan indicated more reports will be upcoming on other economic topics.

'We chose agriculture first because it's such an important part of Solano County,' he told the gathering. 'You've heard the challenge.'

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646, Ext. 232, or at

Solano County agriculture
- Acres: 359,892
- Annual production value: $243 million
- Value per acre of production: $675
- Top 10 commodities by 2006 value: Nursery products, cattle and calves, hay and alfalfa, tomatoes, vegetables, walnuts, milk, grapes and wine, almonds and dried plumbs.
(Source: University of California Agricultural Issues Center)

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