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Marin County farmers and ranchers plan for success

By Dominic Grossi and David Lewis
California Farm Bureau Federation's Ag Alert


Bring Marin County farmers and ranchers together for a day to talk about their farms, ranches and industries, and you quickly learn about traditions and innovations that have bolstered these family operations across as many as six generations. You also release the problem-solving abilities of these farm business owners to build a strategy for success into the future. That is what happened last month, when Marin County's agricultural community participated in the 2010 Marin Agricultural Summit.

Marin's farms and ranches are continuing long-standing traditions in livestock and dairy production, with approximately 95 percent of county agriculture focused on delivering commodity beef, sheep and dairy products. A key part of this foundation and success is the ability to adapt to emerging opportunities in the commodity and direct market avenues. For example, what was previously Point Beyes Butter--produced locally until the 1940s--has been replaced by diverse, conventional and organic farms producing commodity, farmstead and direct-marketed cheeses, meats and produce.

This is not by accident. Capitalizing and seizing these opportunities comes from planning and strategizing to establish policies, programs and partnerships that support individual producers and industries alike.

Marin's agricultural community has taken strategic steps to plan for success in the past, including a 1997 Marin Agricultural Summit and annual Agricultural Round Tables hosted by Supervisor Steve Kinsey. These planning steps have resulted in fundamental and substantive support of local agriculture, including increased use of conservation easements, vibrant and diverse farmers markets, solutions and programs to facilitate agricultural project design, review and permitting, and cutting-edge soil and water conservation programs.

Keeping with this "planning for success" approach, the day of the summit was a very forward-thinking day for Marin County agriculture. For the first time in 13 years, producers took a hard look at the future of agriculture in Marin. Attendees participated in small, roundtable discussions to answer three questions:

  • Where do you want Marin agriculture to be in 10 years, for you, your family, your products and the county?
  • What do you need to move your operation, your industry and the county toward a successful future?
  • What are the most important initiatives and ideas that will help us collectively reach our goals?

Participants also broke into industry-specific discussions to cover obstacles and opportunities for dairy farmers, grazing livestock ranchers, row crop growers and value-added processers. Lastly, a series of panel presentations covered new opportunities and approaches in capital and infrastructure needs, staying on top of business practices, opportunities in sustainability, marketing our products and educating our public.

The work is just beginning, though; all these ideas will require an enormous amount of effort to be implemented. Working as individuals and collectively with our elected officials is a necessity, and the day really opened the door for progress to be made. This is largely because many county officials and staff participated in the summit, connecting agriculturalists with decision makers. This was a big part of the day's success: having officials and staff hear the entire agricultural community come together and voice their concerns and ideas.

Next steps will include publishing a summary of the proposed ideas and action items. It will also include outreach to partners and organizations to galvanize leadership, interest and support to implement these items. Some of these ideas include increasing water supply, hiring a county planner with an agriculture background to work with the permitting process specifically related to farms and ranches, creating a Grown in Marin label that all producers can use in their direct-marketing efforts, ensuring a slaughterhouse facility will remain in the area, and completing railroad repairs so freight can begin moving again in Marin.

All of these and many other ideas are very important to Marin agriculture's success in the future, and planning that took place at the summit will lead to their implementation.

For more information about the 2010 Marin Agricultural Summit, see the summit website, http://ucanr.org/sites/2010AgSum2/.

(Dominic Grossi is president of the Marin County Farm Bureau. David Lewis is director of University of California Cooperative Extension Marin.)