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Painting the Picture of Marin Agriculture

cheese rounds on a shelf
By Lindsey Affonso, UCCE Marin Research Associate

A main focus at UCCE Marin is local, relevant research. One such research project that proved to be particularly impactful was a county-wide survey of producers, conducted in 2002 and its findings, published in 2003: “The Status of Marin County Agriculture: A Profile of Current Practices and Needs.” 95 respondents’ demographic and production information was anonymously compiled and analyzed to create the final report which “provide[d] a current profile of Marin County agriculture— the producers, their farms and ranches, their products and markets, and plans for the future”.

The 2002 study found several trends relating to age, profitability, and the stability of operations: The average age of participating producers was 54, 63% of whom considered their operation either unprofitable or marginally profitable, and yet 90% had no plans of selling their operations in the next 5 years, 86% had between one and four family members involved in the operation, and 71% had a family member who was planning on continuing with the operation. In relation to the operations themselves, 64% were considered the primary income for the operator, 46% of operations were all or partly organic and 24% were utilizing value-added products to supplement their operation’s profits.

Lindsey Affonso and a cow
Fast forward to 2016, wherein 14 years have elapsed since the first study was performed and a lot has changed. For this reason, this summer, UCCE Marin is set to perform a new research project to understand producers and their livelihood’s changes from 2002 to today and gather information on current practices from new producers.

By performing this longitudinal study, we hope to gain a new perspective on the progression of respondents’ operations, the emergence of new operations, the development of diversification strategies, and the unique challenges and opportunities playing a role in the agricultural landscape in Marin. We aim to capture these changes, as well as to provide a basis for comparison in the future.

As the new Research Associate, I joined UCCE Marin in May as a part of the team set to conduct the 2016 survey of Marin County producers. I grew up on a commercial beef and sheep ranch based in Lassen County after spending my first few years of life in Sonoma County. Even then, the whispers of change were drifting amongst both the producers and consumers of the North Bay. During my absence, a great deal has transpired and I look forward to seeing this transformation and the product of the producers’ ingenuity first hand. Active in both 4-H and FFA as a child and teen, I have a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science from Chico State, and I have been active in the agriculture community for many years. Working side-by-side with producers is where my heart truly lies. In doing so, I am able to share in their joys, triumphs, sorrows, failures, and way of life, and that, for me, is what being part of the industry is all about.

I am sure to be a familiar face around farms and ranches late this summer, as I will be meeting with producers to hear their accounts of the state of their operations and practices.

If you or a producer you know wish to participate in the survey, or have any questions about either the 2002 or 2016 survey, feel free to contact me at laffonso@ucanr.edu or 415-473-4204.

Photo credits: Mara Dobyns

sheep on Marin hillside

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