SACRAMENTO — The COVID-19 pandemic posed remarkable challenges for California’s farmers and ranchers in 2020. Abrupt shifts in demand caused by restaurant and school closures and a jump in meals prepared at home forced producers to pivot to respond to these market shifts and many farmers experienced significant losses as a result.
But the state’s farming industry is by nature resilient and will rebound as the pandemic eases. And as it has done for over 100 years, Farm Credit continued to demonstrate its unwavering commitment to agriculture in 2020 by supporting the industry through sponsorships, education and grants to young and beginning farmers.
In fact, the Farm Credit Alliance – American Ag Credit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit, and Yosemite Farm Credit – contributed over $1 million in 2020 to over 100 agricultural organizations. That’s in addition to several million dollars the individual associations donated directly.
Approximately half of these funds were devoted to industry support – the preservation of agriculture and raising awareness of the importance of agriculture. The remaining funds provided funding for the future of agriculture through supporting youth programs and farming groups that provide networking and continuing education for their members. And like farmers, these organizations had to quickly adjust by operating virtually instead of in person.
One program Farm Credit supports is the Center for Land-Based Learning’s FARMS program, which normally takes students from participating high schools into the fields once a month to give them hands-on experience about different types of crops and how they are raised, harvested and processed. This year, with such tours canceled, the Center set up daily Zoom calls to give students the chance to talk to and learn from farmers and other agricultural experts.
“Our state’s youth and beginning farmers are the future of agriculture, which is why Farm Credit strongly supports programs like the Center for Land-Based Learning, along with FFA and 4H to encourage young people to go into farming and ranching,” said Mark Littlefield, President and CEO, Farm Credit West. “Farm Credit also is committed to helping small and beginning farmers become established.”
Supporting small farmers is a top priority because one-third of the 75,000 farms in California are less than nine acres. Evan Wiig, director of membership and communications for the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, said support from sponsors like Farm Credit is the only way events like their California Small Farm Conference could take place.
“Our primary constituents don’t have a lot of extra spending power. We have to keep the event affordable, and we couldn’t do that on ticket sales alone,” he noted. “Farm Credit’s support has allowed us to grow and offer services to more people.”
Preserving and raising awareness of California agriculture is vital as well. One way Farm Credit helps make that happen is by sponsoring California Ag in the Classroom, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating youth throughout the state about the importance of agriculture in their daily lives, and the California Farm Water Coalition, which regularly provides fact-based information on farm water issues to the public.
“California is the nation’s leading farm state. Given our great natural resources such as soil and climate, nearly anything can be grown here,” said Keith Hesterberg, President and CEO, Fresno Madera Farm Credit. “But the industry continually faces new laws and regulations that make it harder for agriculture to succeed. Farm Credit strongly supports efforts to educate policy makers and the public about the role California agriculture plays in the U.S. food system, and how important agriculture is to the state’s economy.”
And as the spreading coronavirus forced many businesses to shut down last spring, Farm Credit, the Dairy Farmers of America and Hilmar Cheese quickly stepped in to help expand the state’s Farm-to-Family Program by providing seed money for food banks and donating 37,000 pounds of cheese. Gov. Gavin Newsom noted that private-sector contributions from Farm Credit and others were leveraged to launch a $15 million campaign to support the program through the end of the year.
Farm Credit plans to continue its strong support to California agriculture in 2021 and into the future.
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