Sunday, November 23, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Young farmers face challenge of expensive land

By
From page A1 | March 14, 2014 |

Farmer1w

Stephen Lasko waters flats of seedlings in the greenhouse at the Center for Land-Based Learning. Lasko is growing green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, bunching onions, leeks, sweet peppers, hot peppers, sunflowers, dill and tomatoes. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

As the nation’s farmers age, whether there will be enough interested youths to sustain their numbers remains to be seen.

One thing is for sure: Though there is some help for farmers starting out, the costs of just breaking ground do not make the career an easy one, especially in Yolo County.

This year’s census of American agriculture shows the average age of a farmer to be 58.3 years. On the brighter side, there has been a slight rise the number of farmers nationally in the 25-to-34 age group.

For 24-year-old student Kelsey Brewer, a Davis resident who put his back into it for a year and a half at a 15-acre organic farm in Rio Linda, the concern is less about whether there are enough young people to fill the tractor seats of the mid-century but, rather, whether young, aspiring farmers will be able to afford the land itself.

“Is there going to be a government program to subsidize for young people, or are the farmers themselves going to make the land available to the next generation?” asked Brewer, whose parents were not farm owners. “Or the alternative — that the land leaves farming, which is a danger if the gap isn’t bridged properly.”

Succession planning is one strategy aging farmers use to keep farmsteads locked into agricultural production.

“If they don’t plan, often the heirs aren’t involved in farming, and they will inherit an estate and sell off the pieces,” said Jennifer Taylor, director of the California Farm Academy, a nine-month training program to prepare beginning Yolo County farmers. “Get them to put it into writing, to say ‘this piece is going to stay in agriculture'; to let the children be involved, or not; some (land) could be sold and not the rest.”

Expensive land

Whether or not inherited land is kept in agriculture, the sheer cost per acre in Yolo County is prohibitive.

“I’ve heard it can vary between $10,000 and $15,000 per acre,” said Stephen Lasko, 27, depending on how fertile the acre is or if it has amenities like a barn, a well or already-installed electricity.

Lasko, who recently graduated from the farm academy, was looking for a farm of less than 20 acres in Yolo or Solano counties.

“It’s hard because you don’t see anything in that price range for smaller parcels because a lot of people are looking for places to build a home or ranchette or maybe a hobby farm, but the price for small parcels might be two to three times per acre what larger parcels should,” he said.

Lasko explored options through California FarmLink, a nonprofit that finds excess farmland not in use to list the opportunity for leasing. But very few listings are available in Yolo County, he said.

Instead, Lasko took advantage of incentives offered by the farm academy upon graduation from the program, which links graduates to farmers offering small acreage for use. The program also provides small plots on its own property with the added benefit of infrastructure including a greenhouse, barn space, a walk-in fridge, hand tools and mechanical tools.

“You can use your half-acre plot for up to three years and the expectation is that, if you’re going to continue, you would find a different local farmland opportunity so the new graduates can use that space,” Lasko said.

The start-up cost for a very small farming operation could be as little as several thousand dollars, said Lasko, provided you could find a couple of acres to lease and if the tractor work was already provided and tools available.

“I don’t plan to spend more than $5,000 this season,” he said, growing diversified row crops like green beans, sweet corn, melons, peppers, tomatoes and squash at SV Lasko Farm.

Tough row to hoe

For Brewer, things weren’t so easy.

“You could do it for free — but it’s not real,” said Brewer, who ultimately left Feeding Crane Farms in Rio Linda when its owner decided it wasn’t turning enough profit. “Programs like this are excellent because they do give young farmers the opportunity to put a low amount of capital into getting started … but it doesn’t diminish that risk factor,” he added.

Both Lasko and Brewer were growing heirloom-variety vegetables that are sold at five times the cost of standard veggies to upscale restaurants.

Both agreed it would be impossible for small-scale farms to compete with industrial-scale producers of more standard-variety produce.

For Brewer, the expenses mounted quickly in his first year.

He and a group of about 10 others of ages ranging from 18 to 35 invested in “irrigation systems, constant purchasing of large amounts of soil amendments such as compost, fertilizer high in nitrogen and other elements, mushroom compost, cow manure, and bone meal — amendments for both nutrient and soil consistency to make the soil not too claylike or silty.”

There also were expenses from buying tractors and trucks and their associated repairs.

“(We were) mostly working by hand, or with one tractor with basic attachments,” Brewer said. “Veggies were mostly hand-harvested, as were transplants and soil amendments. All small farms starting out have this initial challenge of competing against industrial-scale farms.”

Brewer admitted the added difficulty of working with land that had been fallow for more than 70 years.

“Every time we planted, we had to remove weeds,” he said.

And without wind breaks in place on land that hadn’t previously been used for farming, “the wind ripped through that valley at incredible speeds and would rip plants out of the ground.”

Many challenges

Taylor agrees in many regards.

“I do think it’s challenging,” she said. “If you don’t come from a farming background or have connections, how do you just break into agriculture? It’s hard to know where to start and what to do, which is really why we started our nonprofit. People want to grow food.”

The farm academy has graduated two classes so far, totaling about 40 people, she said.

Taylor encourages graduates to have a few years under their belts before considering purchasing land as well as using livestock and crops as equity when investing in land.

Brewer is headed back to school in the fall at UC Davis, majoring in plant biology. He hopes to start by building up a one-acre farm when he gets back to the fields.

The California Farm Academy is part of the Center for Land-Based Learning. Each year, it has space for about 20 students like Lasko, chosen out of an average of about 50 who apply.

For more information, go to http://landbasedlearning.org/farm-academy.php.

— Reach Jason McAlister at jmcalister@davisenterprise.net

Comments

comments

Jason McAlister

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Hollywood readies its big guns for the holidays

    By Derrick Bang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Need for local foster parents grows

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1

     
    Tactical robot decreases officer risks

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Berkeley, Santa Cruz students protest fee hikes

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Couple arrested on drug, firearm possession charges

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Woman confronts suspicious follower

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Bob Dunning: Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

    For the record

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

     
    Auction-bound student artwork stolen in downtown heist

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A3, 1 Comment | Gallery

    UCD awarded $100M to lead program to predict, prevent pandemic threats

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Breakfast with Santa tickets are going fast

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Probationers, parolees graduate from Yolo transitional program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Free boot camp, yoga fundraiser this week

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Enterprise observes holiday hours

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Bell-ringers still needed this holiday season

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Give blood and get a free movie ticket

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Thanksgiving feast is open to all

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Workshop will answer financial aid questions

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Yolo Food Bank invites locals to run with the flock

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Museum announces holiday schedule

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    At the Pond: Stop, look and listen

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Round up at the registers for Davis schools

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

    Project Linus seeks donations

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    Swing your partner!

    By Wayne Tilcock | From Page: A6

    Fairfield School enjoys a festive feast

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7 | Gallery

     
    Right at home: gifts you can use and use up

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A8

    Dec. 10 jeans drive benefits STEAC

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A9

     
    Davis Community Church history recounted in Sunday talk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A10 | Gallery

    Open your heart

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Bob Hope interview pulled from ‘the vault’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    There’s only one way to fix this

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Students barking up the wrong tree

    By Our View | From Page: A14

    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A14

     
    Heartbroken over treatment of teacher

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

    Google, tell me. Is my son a genius?

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A14

     
    Daryl Cagle cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A15

    Cordial political discourse: Seven years later, the thoughts resonate

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

     
    Easing the stress during college application season

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A15

    How I want to be remembered

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A16

     
    Watch out for holiday weight gain

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A16

     
    When the computer stares back

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A16

    .

    Sports

    Turnovers costly as UC Davis loses Classic, 41-30

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Aggie men finish off Furman

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Upset-minded Lions bounce UCD from WWPA tourney

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    New, old-look helmets not enough to lift UCD footballers

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Late shot sinks Aggie women

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD roundup: Seniors play well in Aggie volleyball loss

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Wire briefs: Kings get past depleted T-Wolves

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6

     
    With volleyball playoff berth, DHS accomplished its 2014 goal

    By Evan Ream | From Page: B6 | Gallery

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

     
    Don’t pass up the parking gift downtown

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A13

    Doby Fleeman: Give thanks for our innovation culture

    By Doby Fleeman | From Page: A20

     
    Honey, spreads showcased at open house

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A20

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, November 23, 2014

    By Creator | From Page: B8