A priority goal of area farmers got a boost this week with county approval of a new “farm ombudsman” position jointly funded by Yolo and Solano counties.
The person eventually hired to fill the job will be tasked with assisting farmers, ranchers and agriculture-related businesses in the two counties with obtaining permits to expand or create promising ag-related projects.
Creation of a so-called “farmbudsman” position was identified as a key county goal in the Yolo County Tactical Plan last year in the wake of complaints by farmers that regulatory obstacles were preventing expansion of their operations.
County supervisors this week approved an operating agreement between Yolo and Solano counties, as well as the Solano Community College Small Business Development Center, to create and fund the position, with each county ponying up $27,000 and the college accessing state and federal funds to augment the combined $54,000.
The county anticipates the presence of a farmbudsman could lead to a 20 percent increase in approvals of agriculture-related projects, 500 new ag-related jobs and five new processors in each county by 2015.
However, Supervisor Matt Rexroad of Woodland questioned those numbers, saying Tuesday, “I don’t think those numbers are realistic by any stretch of the imagination.”
“If that’s the case, then we should increase the budget to $100,000 and have 2,000 jobs created in Yolo County,” he said.
Rexroad added the “unrealistic expectations” set up whoever fills the farmbudsman position for failure.
Yolo County Agriculture Commissioner John Young agreed that the notion of five new ag processors in each county was not realistic and that his belief was the goal would be five total between the two counties.
“We’re not wed to those numbers,” he said. “If there are more realistic numbers … we’re open to that.”
But Rexroad remained skeptical, saying, “I’m not convinced of this whole thing … not convinced this will get us anything tangible.”
Some of his colleagues on the board of supervisors also questioned the optimistic target goals but voted in favor of the plan nonetheless.
“We’re (going) in the right direction,” said Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, himself a lifelong farmer.
“What bothers me is that we don’t process much of what we grow in this county,” he said. “We only have one tomato cannery left in this county … I heard six months ago there was a cannery interested (in opening here), but we didn’t have anybody to pursue it.”
In addition to a farmbudsman who would presumably be able to assist in exactly that kind of situation, the new agreement calls on Solano Community College’s small business development center to provide additional services to ag-related businesses not funded by the agreement.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at email@example.com or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy