In an effort to better support local agriculture, the Yolo Board of Supervisors took a first look at the new agriculture funding program at its meeting last week.
The Agricultural Economic Development Fund refocuses the agricultural priorities of the county, which primarily have been land preservation through conservation easements. The fund will effectively be a holding tank for money that can be directed toward a much broader range of agricultural programs, including marketing, infrastructure improvements and loans.
“Ag preservation is necessary but not sufficient,” said Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor of Davis. “By creating the vehicle for investment … we have opened up the doors to really take a stronger leadership role throughout the country.”
Consero Solutions, a Davis consulting firm, compiled a list of 97 projects that already were approved by the board in a number of future-focused plans like the Yolo County General Plan 2030. It then narrowed the list to 10 high-priority projects already ongoing or highlighted by stakeholders including Michelle Stephens, the Yolo and Solano farmbudsman, and John Young, the Yolo County agriculture commissioner.
These included continued support for the Farm-to-School program, attracting and strengthening local food processing abilities and the Revolving Loan Program, which pays farmers’ permit fees up front.
Young said it is important to better fund the loan program, to help farmers take full advantage of existing production.
“Any time you can add value to your product, that means you get to keep the benefit of that,” Young said. “You end up creating more jobs, more revenue, which ultimately means more taxes being paid, all kinds of things that benefit the cities and the counties.”
Ultimately, the goal is to make farming sustainable.
“It doesn’t matter if you conserve land if the farmers aren’t making money, if they can’t pay their costs,” said Petrea Marchand, who founded Consero and previously worked for the county.
As it stands, the fund has no impact on the county’s budget, since there are no permanent funds earmarked for agricultural development. The unofficial public comment period runs until June 30, after which the board will decide the nuts and bolts of the fund, including which programs to support first and where it can pull in state and federal grants.
— Reach Elizabeth Case at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow her on Twitter at @elizabeth_case