UC to end Small Farm Program

The University of California has announced that it will close its statewide Small Farm Program permanently on December 31, 2009, in an effort to close a budget shortfall of the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR).

Since 2000, the Small Farm Program has brought in $1.97 million in grants and contracts to the University. By ending the Small Farm Program, ANR will save $140,000 in annual costs, along with a one-time savings of $268,000.

According to USDA’s most recent Census information, California has 68,536 small-scale farmers, and 47 percent of California’s farmers have limited resources. The Small Farm Program has served thousands of smaller farmers in California since being established 30 years ago, in response to a lawsuit detailing how the University’s mechanization research adversely impacted small-scale farmers. For many new farmers, immigrant farmers and small-scale growers, the Small Farm Program’s advisors are the trusted first links to university research in a food system often more conducive to large-scale production.

Small-scale farmers cannot compete against large farms based on price, due to economies of scale. Thus the Small Farm Program has sought to enable California’s small-scale farmers to differentiate themselves through the crops they produce, their production methods and their marketing channels. The program leverages academic research and grant funding to provide scale-appropriate solutions, including:

The program provides a website with nearly 25,000 page views each month of field-tested information on specialty crops, direct marketing, agritourism, postharvest handling, and farm management topics--as well as a newsletter with more than 5,000 subscribers. In addition, the program provides organizational leadership to the California Small Farm Conference, which rotates around the state and consistently supports 600 participants each year.

With the closing of the Small Farm Program, all of these activities would be scattered or discontinued. Since 85 percent of all California farms are considered “small” by USDA standards, ensuring that small-scale farmers are economically viable is important to the sustainable food system of the future.

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