California FarmLink Helps People of Color Become Successful Farmers

Farm Credit supports group as part of its commitment to diversity in agriculture.

Over the past seven years, former farmworker Aldo Gonzalez has expanded his farm business from five to 44 acres, helped by annual operating loans from California FarmLink, an Aptos-based nonprofit that since 2013 has also operated as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI).

Aldo Gonzalez at this farm in Monterey County.

He grew up on a family farm growing vegetables in Oaxaca, Mexico, and as a farmworker in the U.S. was determined to have his own business. Now, Gonzalez Organic Farms in Monterey County specializes in growing strawberries, which he sells at farmers markets in Cupertino, San Juan Bautista, Oakland and Sunnyvale, and is also a valued grower for large strawberry shippers.

Gonzalez is just one of a growing number of Latino farmworkers who have become successful farmers in the U.S., said Reggie Knox, FarmLink’s executive director.

“The overall number of farms is going down, while the proportion of Latino farmers is going up,” Knox said. “We want to serve this community and see it as important for the future of farming in California.”

In fact, the USDA Agricultural Census found there are more than 14,000 registered Latino farmers and ranchers in California, and Latino farmers are growing at twice the rate of traditional farmers despite being historically underserved.

As part of its ongoing commitment to encourage diversity in agriculture, Farm Credit has sponsored FarmLink and its annual Farm Finance Expo, held virtually in late 2020. Supporting Farm Credit institutions American Ag Credit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit to American agriculture.

Knox said the support of Farm Credit and other sponsors is essential to FarmLink’s success.

“The earned income we get from making loans is not enough to support operations, so we supplement that with grants and sponsorships,” he said. “We appreciate the support from Farm Credit.”

Keith Hesterberg, President and CEO of Fresno Madera Farm Credit, noted that FarmLink has expanded its efforts in the Fresno area.

“FarmLink is now working with a number of small-scale Hmong farmers in the Fresno area, and as part of Farm Credit’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion we applaud FarmLink’s efforts and look forward to working with these beginning farmers in the future,” he said.

Mark Littlefield, President and CEO of Farm Credit West, said supporting FarmLink is just one way Farm Credit supports diversity in agriculture.

“For the past six years, Farm Credit has also been a proud sponsor of the Latino Farmer Conference, which drew some 300 participants in 2019, before COVID-19, and returned this year with a series of webinars,” Littlefield said. “Nurturing beginning farmers is part of our mission and we’re happy to support FarmLink’s work.”

Knox said since establishing the CDFI, FarmLink has loaned $31 million to more than 300 borrowers, 60% of whom are Latino and between 30- and 35% are women.

FarmLink works closely with ALBA – the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association – an incubator program in the Salinas Valley that provides land and support for beginning farmers. During the six-month course, ALBA provides a half-acre of land to learn to grow crops on. Once the farmer graduates, FarmLink comes in.

“When the beginning Latino farmer comes out of the incubator, we may help them with their first lease and provide an initial operating loan of $10,000 to $20,000 to get started. The next year the farmer may require $25,000 to $50,000 to scale up. Whenever possible, those leases include a first right of refusal for the farmer to purchase the property, because we encourage people to build a pathway to ownership so their businesses can generate multi-generational wealth,” he said.

Knox added that he believes Farm Credit can help farmers achieve that goal.

“Farm Credit is the largest lender across the country, helping farmers of all sizes. We really appreciate the partnership and hope to work closely with its associations in the future, to make sure they are there when farmers graduate from our programs and are in need of a larger loan,” he said.

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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

 About California FarmLink

California FarmLink is a 21-year-old nonprofit organization investing in the prosperity of farmers and ranchers through education, loans, and access to land. FarmLink works across the state with a focus on serving communities of color and beginning farmers and ranchers. The organization partners with farmers, ranchers, professional advisors, impact investors, public agencies and other nonprofits, weaving an ecosystem of support for next-generation farmers. For more information, visit https://www.californiafarmlink.org.

 

 

Lesser-known Wines Deserve Some Love Too

P. S. I Love You promotes Petite Sirah with help from ongoing Farm Credit support.

The wine industry is a huge part of California agriculture. According to the Wine Institute, there are 5,900 wine grape growers in the Golden State, cultivating the crop on 635,000 acres. The growers harvest almost 4 million tons of grapes a year, generating over $3 billion in farmgate revenue. In total, the wine industry has an economic impact of $57 billion a year and employs 325,000 Californians.

Farm Credit sponsored this Petite Sirah tasting at Copia in Napa County in 2019. Panelists are Jo Diaz (moderator), Randle Johnson (Artisan Winery), Nicole Salengo (Berryessa Gap Winery), Miro Tcholakov (Trentadue Winery and Miro Cellars), Tres Goetting (Robert Biale Winery), and Julie Johnson (Tres Sabores Winery).

As part of the nationwide Farm Credit System – the largest provider of credit to U.S. agriculture – American AgCredit and Farm Credit West are leading lenders to the state’s growers and wineries. And in collaboration with CoBank, the three Farm Credit organizations also support many wine-related organizations.

A small but growing organization Farm Credit has supported since 2014 is P.S. I Love You – not a Beatles tribute band but the advocacy group for Petite Sirah. The grape is a cross of Syrah and an obscure French grape called peloursin that has been grown in California since the 1880s. By the 1970s, production of this grape had faded. Jo Diaz, one of the group’s founders and still its executive director, said all of that changed after a Petite Sirah symposium held in 2002.

“At the time, most petite sirahs were very rustic. Nobody had tamed the tannins,” she recalled. In fact, for many years the varietal was one of the wines blended into Gallo’s Hearty Burgundy jug wine. But the symposium unlocked the secret to success when winemaker Jeff Cohn, then with Rosenblum Cellars, blurted out how he made smooth and approachable Petite Sirahs.

“Jeff told me he only came to listen, but before he knew it, he was spilling his guts,” Diaz said. “He said he picked the grapes at night when it’s cooler, and then left the grapes to cold ferment for a week before punching down the cap of skins. That makes the most elegant wine possible. Today, almost everyone makes it that way.”

Since the group formed, Diaz has reached out to hundreds of wine writers to cajole them to sample the varietal.

“I’m a storyteller. Most of the reviews on our website have come from stories I’ve written and sent to my media friends. In the beginning, it was slow, but as the years went by, the amount of reviews grew. Reviews cause curiosity and that causes sales to happen,” she said.

Diaz said Farm Credit’s support “basically saved our advocacy group last year because of COVID.”

“Farm Credit stepped up and helped keep this small advocacy group thriving. They give back with support to the community, and they recognize the need for small advocacy groups like ours,” she said.

Mark Littlefield, President and CEO of Farm Credit West, said Farm Credit supports wine organizations large and small.

“California produces over 100 varieties of wine, not just Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay,” he said. “For nearly 20 years, P.S. I Love You has done a great job of educating wine writers and, through them, the public about this great varietal. Most of the growers and wineries are small operations, and we’re proud to have played a role in their success.”

Curt Hudnutt, President and CEO of American AgCredit, noted that Farm Credit supports a wide range of wine advocacy groups.

“This year, besides P.S. I Love You, Farm Credit is supporting such groups as the Family Winemakers of California, the San Joaquin Valley Winegrowing Association, the Sustainable Ag Expo, CA Association of Winegrape Growers, Unified Wine and Grape Symposium, Wine Industry Symposiums, the Wine Institute,  and Women of the Vine,” Hudnutt noted. “In all, our support totals more than $46,000 and we look forward to many more years of helping promote the vital wine industry here in California.”

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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, and Farm Credit West are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About Petite Sirah I Love You, Inc: 

Petite Sirah I Love You, Inc. is a 501 (c)6 non-profit, advocacy organization, dedicated to raising awareness for Petite Sirah, an American heritage, wine grape cultivar, as recognized by the University of California at Davis. PS I Love You promotes and accents the positives of Petite Sirah as a heritage variety worth knowing and celebrating, by the California wine industry. This work is accomplished through the support of Petite Sirah producers, consumer fans, and the continuing sponsorships of interested parties. Petite Sirah offers educational services, through social media awareness and planned events, which educate the world-at-large about Petite Sirah. For more information, visit www.psiloveyou.org

 

Dry Weather Harms California Farmers and Reinforces Need for Advocacy

Farm Credit has donated $100,000 to help the California Water Alliance work for solutions

Barring an unlikely April miracle that brings heavy rains and snow to fill California reservoirs, farmers around the state can expect to receive drastically reduced amount of water from state and federal water systems this year.

San Luis Reservoir in 2016

For example, the state Department of Water Resources in March slashed its allocations to farms it serves to just 5%, and water projects with more junior rights, such as the Westlands Water District, were recently informed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that the scant 5% allocation earlier promised is now on hold.

The dry weather that has plagued the state for most of the past decade is why groups like the California Water Alliance (CalWA) work hard to remind policymakers that farmers can’t grow the crops we need without water – and that the water must be allocated equitably among competing needs.

“We try to advocate for having a reliable water supply,” said William Bourdeau, who chairs CalWA and the Central Valley Business Federation and is also the executive vice president of farming operations for Harris Farms.

“We want to make sure that the environment, communities and farmers have the ability to thrive. That takes planning. We were blessed by the pioneers who created the water infrastructure we enjoy but we need people to continue to push those efforts.”

The critical need to ensure a reliable water supply for California agriculture is why Farm Credit associations serving California have donated $100,000 to CalWA over the past decade. Supporting Farm Credit institutions are American Ag Credit, Farm Credit West and CoBank – all of which are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit to American agriculture.

“The water system that serves the vast majority of Californians was completed in the late 1970s,” said Leili Ghazi, Senior Vice President, Farm Credit Banking Group, CoBank. “Since then, the state’s population has doubled to just under 40 million people and laws and regulations now require nearly half of the available water to be used for environmental protection. Without a reliable water supply, it will be increasingly difficult for many farmers to continue growing the crops that feed the nation, which is why CalWA’s efforts are so important.”

Mark Littlefield, President and CEO of Farm Credit West, agreed.

“CalWA is one of the most trusted educational voices on water policy and issues in the state, and they are playing an important role in the ongoing efforts to develop a strategy to update the water system to meet today’s needs,” Littlefield said. “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.”

Bourdeau said 48% of the state’s water supply is used for environmental purposes, compared to 41% for agriculture and 11% for urban uses. He said the increased emphasis on the environment has reduced water supply to farmers, forcing them to fallow up to 800,000 acres annually.

“When we send that much water out to the ocean, it’s mismanagement. We need to remind policymakers that we have options. We can capture the snowpack and rainfall if we invest in the future and have policies that truly help the environment, but mankind is an important part of that formula as well,” he said.

CalWA is seeking a wide range of solutions to create a new approach to managing California’s water, including recommendations that:

  • The state and federal governments create more storage facilities, both above and below ground, to capture excess water during wet years.
  • Government takes advantage of flexibility of regulatory guidelines to free up more water for farmers and city dwellers in Southern California.
  • And a review of the environmental restricting water supply be conducted to scientifically determine if existing water management practices are actually helping fish, which may be endangered due to such other factors as predatory fish and other issues unrelated to flow.

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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, and Farm Credit West are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About CALWA:

The California Water Alliance works to keep our government accountable to current and future sustainable water policies. CalWA is the most trusted statewide educational voice and authority on water policy and issues, advocating for an increased water supply benefiting families, cities, businesses, farmers and the environment. For more information, visit https://californiawateralliance.org.

 

AgSafe Marking 10 Years of Training Farmers, Supervisors and Farm Workers

Farm Credit continues to support group’s worker safety and HR training – and now COVID as well

In agriculture as in most fields, workers and employers alike need ongoing training to keep up with changing requirements and advances in the field. Fortunately for California’s food and farming industries, a nonprofit called AgSafe has been providing specialized training in worker safety, health, human resources and food safety for 30 years.

In fact, Natalie Gupton, AgSafe’s Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, said nearly 100,000 employers, supervisors and farm workers have been trained over the years, adding that the $50,000 provided by the Farm Credit associations serving California since 2012 has been extremely helpful in making that happen.

“Our flagship event is our annual conference, and the support Farm Credit has given for that event has helped sustain it and ensure cost is not a barrier for the ag industry to attend,” Gupton said. “We certainly appreciate that support. We couldn’t do the work we do without the support you give us.”

Supporting Farm Credit institutions include American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West, and Fresno Madera Farm Credit – all of which are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit to American agriculture.

Keith Hesterberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of Fresno Madera Farm Credit, said Farm Credit supports AgSafe because worker safety is a high priority for the industry.

“The safety of the essential workers who harvest and process the crops that feed America and the world is a top priority for the industry, and AgSafe has been a leader in safety training since its founding in 1991,” Hesterberg said. “Supporting its ongoing training efforts is a great investment.”

But HR training is equally important, noted Mark Littlefield, President and Chief Executive Officer of Farm Credit West, because employers need to stay abreast of ever-changing state laws and regulations.

“For example, the state requires farm labor contractors to take a nine-hour course each year to maintain a valid license,” Littlefield said. “Continuing education provided by AgSafe is an essential component of keeping our farms operating safely and in compliance with the state’s numerous employment laws, and Farm Credit is proud to help make it possible.”

The eight-person staff provides the bulk of the training, much of it developed by Vice President and Chief Education Officer Angelina Ceja in partnership with regional partners and guidance from state and federal agencies. Gupton said AgSafe provides free informational webinars and materials that are available to any group or organization involved in agricultural work in both English and Spanish. Grant opportunities had allowed the development of robust programs such as the California Agricultural Human Resource Certificate, an on-demand federal focused Agricultural Human Resource Certificate and an H2-A Cost Estimator.

Besides the industrywide training courses the company offers, she said AgSafe can provide specialized training for farming businesses with specific needs, such as sexual harassment prevention, injury and illness prevention plan development, first aid, and supervisor essentials. And while the bulk of the training takes place in California – the nonprofit is based in Modesto – AgSafe is now reaching out to farmers and ranchers in several other states as well. To help serve other regions more effectively, Gupton is based in Louisville, Ky.

Currently, she said, AgSafe is concentrating on COVID-19 prevention and compliance.

“People are looking for more information about COVID, so we prioritized our efforts to focus on providing reliable information to help the industry navigate regulations and provide best practices to keep our workforce safe. New information is coming out almost daily and our goal is to provide timely and succinct information,” she said.

Regardless of the training needs, she said AgSafe’s goal is simple: “to be the one-stop resource providing worker safety, health, and human resources, solutions for the food and farming industries. And we thank Farm Credit for its generous support in helping us strive toward that goal.”

 

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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About AgSafe:

AgSafe is a 501c3 nonprofit providing training, education, outreach and tools in the areas of safety, labor relations and human resources for the food and farming industries. Since 1991, AgSafe has educated nearly 100,000 employers, supervisors and workers about these critical issues. For more information about worker safety, human resources, labor relations or pesticide safety issues, please visit www.agsafe.org, call (209) 526-4400 or email safeinfo@agsafe.org.

 

Women’s Group Effectively Speaks on Behalf of the Busy Farmer

Since 1975, California Women for Agriculture (CWA) has educated and advocated about the importance of farming. 

Farm Credit continues to support their efforts.

In 1975, a group of women concerned about challenges to California agriculture got together to “speak on behalf of the busy farmer” and educate consumers and legislators about farming issues. Today, the CWA has become one of the largest all-volunteer advocacy groups in the nation, consisting of a diverse group of bankers, lawyers, accountants, marketing professionals and consumers – along with farmers and ranchers.

California Women for Agriculture members gathered at their January 2020 convention.

Rose Tryon, a fifth-generation rancher beginning her second year as CWA president, said it is critically important that the ag industry continues to mount education and advocacy efforts, and last year added a digital campaign to its usual lobbying efforts.

“Last year we ran a digital campaign titled Faces of Ag, where our communications team highlighted members who work in different facets of the industry,” she said. “We wanted to point out (to lawmakers) how important agriculture is to the state’s economy, how many jobs are involved and how many women and minorities are involved in ag and make a connection about how their decisions affect women and minority populations and ag in general. Our membership is as diverse as the crops we grow.”

Because of the importance of educating policymakers about the many issues affecting farming and ranching in California, Farm Credit associations serving California have sponsored CWA for more than 20 years. Supporting Farm Credit institutions are American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit – all of which are part of the nationwide Farm Credit System, the largest provider of credit to American agriculture.

“About half of the million dollars Farm Credit donates to nonprofits each year goes to preserving agriculture and raising awareness of the importance of agriculture in California,” said Timothy Elrod, president and CEO of Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit. “CWA’s 1,300 members do a great job educating decision-makers and advocating for policies that keep our state’s agriculture industry competitive and viable. We believe our contribution of $10,000 a year to support this great organization is an investment in the future of farming.”

Tryon said Farm Credit’s support over the years has been essential in helping the organization grow.

“We can’t continue to advocate without our sponsors, and we are so appreciative of Farm Credit’s support. They’ve been an absolutely wonderful sponsor, and we couldn’t continue without them,” she said.

The organization consists of 21 local chapters that focus on promoting agriculture locally and providing scholarships to students majoring in farming-related majors. Tryon said her local chapter in the Chico area, for example, raises money to loan to students who can’t afford to buy an animal for FFA or 4H competitions. A student then raises the animal, shows it, and repays the loan when she sells it after the competition.

That kind of commitment to the future of agriculture is another reason why Farm Credit continues to sponsor CWA, noted Keith Hesterberg, president and CEO of Fresno Madera Farm Credit.

“In our area, CWA partners with Ag One to put on the Ag Boosters BBQ each year, which raises funds to support ag students and programs at Fresno State,” Hesterberg said. “Farm Credit is proud to directly sponsor that program, which helps ensure we will have well-educated ag leaders in the future.”

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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West and Fresno Madera Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About California Women for Agriculture:

The CWA’s mission is to promote and develop the interest of California women involved or interested in agriculture and to promote a strong agriculture industry in California. CWA’s efforts are guided by five principal objectives: to speak on behalf of agriculture in an intelligent, informative, direct and truthful manner; to keep CWA members informed on legislative activities pertaining to agriculture; to join forces when the need arises to deal with agricultural issues and challenges; to improve the public image of farmers and to develop a rapport with consumers, educators, and governmental and business leaders in communities throughout the state.

 

 

 

Farm Credit Provided Over $1 Million to California Non-Profits in 2020

In a challenging year, leading ag lender awarded grants to over 100 groups to support agriculture in the Golden State

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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About Farm Credit: 

American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit, Farm Credit West, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

DISABLED AIR FORCE VETERAN CAN MANAGE LIVESTOCK THANKS TO FARM CREDIT GRANT

      Farmer Veteran program provides new farmer with solar-powered portable fencing system.

After leaving the Air Force in 2012 with a service-connected disability, Robert Barnett was looking for a new career when he fell into farming by accident by gardening at his family’s home in Ventura, even though “it was years before I could grow something,” he recalled.

Air Force veteran Robert Barnett and his herd of heritage sheep.

About five years ago, he decided his niche would be to raise sheep for meat production, and while they were growing to graze in areas where fire abatement was needed. Because of the costs involved in raising livestock, he at first raised vegetables and then ducks, but earlier this year Barnett and two partners took the plunge and bought a small starter herd of St. Croix sheep, a heritage low-input breed that thrives on grazing and doesn’t require extensive feeding, along with two rare heritage Mulefoot hogs.

“We’ve been doing it nickel and dime, mostly me,” he said of the small operation in Los Osos in San Luis Obispo County. “We find junk equipment and spruce them up and make them do.”

But thanks to a Farmer Veteran Coalition grant funded by Farm Credit, Barnett now has badly needed new equipment to manage and care for his growing flock of sheep and pigs. The $5,000 paid for two solar-powered portable electric fencing systems to corral the sheep in areas where they’re grazing and another system for hogs, along with other needed supplies for lambing and farrowing, hoof trimming and other miscellaneous tools.

“This grant is a such a relief for me so we can get the essential equipment to make our operations work,” Barnett said. “I still work part time and go to school on the GI Bill as well, so I’m cobbling things together.”

Keith Hesterberg, President and CEO of Fresno Madera Farm Credit, said helping veterans transition into farming is why Farm Credit supports the Davis-based Farmer Veteran Coalition.

“Since its founding in 2008, the Farmer Veteran Coalition has worked tirelessly to enable American veterans to pursue careers in farming,” Hesterberg said. “Its Farmer Veteran Fellowship Fund is a small grant program that provides direct assistance to veterans like Robert Barnett who are in their beginning years of farming and ranching. The funds are given directly to third-party vendors for items the veteran has identified will make a crucial difference in the launch of their farm business, and Farm Credit is proud to be able to help individuals who have served in our armed forces build a new life in agriculture.”

Besides Fresno Madera Farm Credit, other California Farm Credit organizations supporting the Farmer Veteran Coalition are American AgCredit, Co-Bank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit West, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit.

Barnett operates the startup hog, sheep, and tree nursery operations at an existing ancient grains and beans farm known as Kandarian Organic Farms. Slow food chapters on the Central Coast and local chefs are eager to promote the farm’s meats once they’re ready to begin selling animals. That’s coming along as well, as his initial small flock of eight sheep has grown to 17 this year, with more lambs on the way. The hogs have not yet produced any piglets.

And for Barnett, raising livestock is more than just a way to earn a living. Being with the animals also gives him personal comfort as he continues to recover from a horrific accident while an Air Force aircraft maintenance specialist. He was doused with jet fuel while working under an engine when another airman accidentally flipped a switch, which caused a painful nerve and joint condition and some mental challenges, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m service-disabled so I can’t go from zero to 60 in 10 seconds. It takes me 30 seconds or a minute. So I’m really at peace with the livestock and working with them,” he said.

About Farm Credit:

American AgCredit, CoBank, Colusa-Glenn Farm Credit Services, Farm Credit West, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About the Farmer Veteran Coalition:

The mission of the Farmer Veteran Coalition is mobilizing veterans to feed America. The Coalition cultivates a new generation of farmers and food leaders and develops viable employment and meaningful careers through the collaboration of the farming and military communities. It believes that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems, and that agriculture offers purpose, opportunity, and physical and psychological benefits. For more information, visit https://farmvetco.org

CoBank Commits $200,000 to Support Hurricane Laura Relief Efforts

DENVER (September 8, 2020) — CoBank, a cooperative bank serving agribusinesses, rural infrastructure providers and Farm Credit associations throughout the United State, today announced it has committed $200,000 to support disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Laura.  Contributions will include:

  • A $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross to support its relief efforts.
  • A $50,000 donation to the ALEC Hurricane Relief Fund established by the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives to assist the many electric cooperative employees who have been displaced or otherwise impacted by the hurricane.
  • A $50,000 fund to match the hurricane relief contributions of CoBank customers.

Hurricane Laura made landfall on August 27 as a category 4 hurricane and tied with a hurricane from more than 160 years ago as the strongest storm to hit Louisiana. Although Laura weakened as it moved inland, it inflicted billions of dollars in damage on southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. As of September 3, at least 24 deaths had been attributed to the storm. In several communities, resulting power outages are expected to continue for several weeks.

“Hurricane Laura has had a significant impact in rural communities in Louisiana and Texas,” said Thomas Halverson, CoBank’s president and chief executive officer. “We deeply appreciate the efforts of the many organizations working to help people and communities impacted by storm and hope that our contributions will help those who are affected as they begin to recover. CoBank is committed to doing our part and we urge our customers to take advantage of the CoBank matching fund to increase the delivery of assistance and resources to their local communities.”

“The Association of Louisiana Cooperatives and its member Cooperatives are extremely grateful to CoBank and its employees for this donation to support our member employees who have lost their homes to Hurricane Maria,” said Jeff Arnold, chief executive officer of the Louisiana Association of Electric Cooperatives. “We estimate more than 40 electric co-op employees have either completely lost their homes or have enough damage that their home is no longer inhabitable. This assistance will go a long way in rebuilding our Louisiana cooperatives families.”

CoBank Matching Fund

CoBank’s Hurricane Laura Disaster Relief Fund will be available through October 31 or the point at which the fund is fully exhausted, whichever comes first. The fund will be operated on a first come, first served basis and is open to any CoBank customer or Farm Credit organization that makes a charitable contribution to support Hurricane Laura relief efforts. Preference will be given to customers operating within the impacted areas.

Customers may apply for a matching grant by completing the application form.

Questions about the program and/or completed applications may be directed to Sherry Johnson, director of Corporate Social Responsibility at sjohnson@cobank.com or 303-740-6518.

About CoBank

CoBank is a $152 billion cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. The bank provides loans, leases, export financing and other financial services to agribusinesses and rural power, water and communications providers in all 50 states. The bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving more than 70,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country.

CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture, rural infrastructure and rural communities. Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S. and also maintains an international representative office in Singapore.

FARM CREDIT ESTABLISHES ENDOWMENT FUND AT CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO

$255,000 donation will provide resources for student research projects related to agribusiness

 

Agribusiness students at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo will have additional funding for student projects in the years to come after Farm Credit donated nearly $255,000 this year to create an endowment fund for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Cal Poly Agribusiness students prepare a research project.

Six Farm Credit institutions serving farmers and ranchers throughout California contributed funding for the endowment. The annual proceeds will be used to pay for data and other resources that will enable student projects dealing with agricultural finance and lending, data analytics and risk management, said Marianne McGarry Wolf, the university’s agribusiness department head.

“I’m thrilled with the generosity of Farm Credit in supporting Cal Poly and our students,” Wolf said. “This endowment will really benefit both the students and the industry.”

Mark Littlefield, President and CEO, Farm Credit West, said the endowment will provide top-notch academic research that will benefit the food and beverage industry in California.

“Agribusiness is an important part of the state’s farming and ranching operations and research is critically important to provide the information needed for these businesses to grow and flourish,” Littlefield said. “Being able to draw on the outstanding students and faculty at Cal Poly will be a tremendous benefit, and Farm Credit is happy to help make it possible.”

Littlefield also noted that Farm Credit is one of the state’s largest employers of Cal Poly agriculture graduates. “These students are some of the best and the brightest in the state, and Farm Credit has greatly benefitted from the education they received there,” hesaid. “We’re proud to have the opportunity to give back to the school.”

Besides Farm Credit West, the other contributors are American Ag Credit, CoBank, Fresno-Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit.

Wolf said the endowment will further promote the university’s core philosophy – to learn by doing.

“Industry partnerships and funding are critical to facilitating enhanced learn by doing opportunities for students. This donation from Farm Credit will enable students to be more engaged with industry, able to do more hands-on projects and to be able to travel and present their findings to clients.

“And our students do great work. I’ve had students get job offers while they’re in a meeting making a presentation,” she said.

The Agribusiness Department is one of nine departments in Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences and next fall expects to have 521 students enrolled. Its graduates are primarily employed by employers in specialty crops, wine and finance.

Wolf added that the new endowment is especially helpful now as the state’s university systems face significant budget cuts due to the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic. She noted that students are currently preparing scenarios on how Agribusinesses will be able to adapt to changes in purchasing behavior due to the pandemic.

About Farm Credit:

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West, Farm Credit Services Colusa-Glenn, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

About Cal Poly:

Cal Poly’s Agribusiness Department is well known for producing future agribusiness leaders. Our graduates have a global perspective and are exposed to the world’s dynamic environmental, political, economic and social environments. Upon graduation, students have the interpersonal, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving and applied business skills that are required for successful careers with regional, national and international agribusiness industries and the firms and organizations that support those industries. For more information, visit https://agb.calpoly.edu

Farm Credit, Dairy Industry Partner to Help Expand Farm to Family Program

Farm Credit provides seed money for food banks; Dairy Farmers of America, Hilmar Cheese donation 37,000 pounds of cheese.

Forklift driver loads cheese to be sent to food banks from Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc.

In an effort to provide food to California families in need, Farm Credit, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc., are partnering to assist the expansion of the state’s Farm to Family Program, as recognized last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The program is designed to help meet the growing demand at California food banks due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus crisis.

The governor said in a press release that private funding from Farm Credit and other organizations “will be leveraged to launch a $15 million campaign to support the Farm to Family program through the end of the year.”

Farm Credit is providing seed money to the California Association of Food Banks to help distribute 37,000 pounds of cheese – 10,000 pounds of two-pound cheese blocks from DFA and 27,000 pounds of bagged cheese shreds from Merced County-based Hilmar Cheese Company, said Leili Ghazi, the chair of the Farm Credit Marketing Alliance in California and senior vice president of the Farm Credit Banking Group at CoBank.

“This partnership between the dairy industry, the state and the private sector will provide nutritious food to the growing number of California families who need it, and we are proud to be a part of the program,” Ghazi said. “Farm Credit, Hilmar Cheese and DFA have been working for several weeks to make this program a reality and I’m thrilled that we were able to overcome logistical challenges to make it happen.”

Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food & Agriculture, expressed her appreciation for Farm Credit’s involvement.

“I’m very the grateful to everyone in our agricultural family for stepping up in this critical time,” said Ross, who helped develop the Farm to Family program. “Thank you, Farm Credit, for helping our rural communities and dairy farmers by supporting the delivery and packaging of wholesome dairy products to the food banks of our state.”

And the cheese is greatly appreciated by food bank operators, said Stacia Hill Levenfeld, CEO of the California Association of Food Banks.

“Cheese is a coveted commodity at food banks as it’s valued by young and old alike,” Levenfeld said. “Food banks provide essential groceries for those who struggle to make ends meet, and we are incredibly grateful to Farm Credit for supporting access to cheese through our food banks. This donation could not come at a more opportune time as the need for nutrition support has exploded throughout our state. Thank you to Farm Credit for your donation and your leadership. I hope this inspires others to help us meet the urgent need in our communities.”

Hilmar Cheese Company and DFA are also excited to be part of the program.

“Hilmar Cheese Company is pleased to have the opportunity to participate in this program and make 27,000 pounds of cheese available to families in need,” said Denise Skidmore, the company’s director of education and public relations. She noted that the donation is the equivalent of 432,000 one-ounce servings.

Added Gary Stueve, chief operating officer for DFA’s Western Area: “We are honored to partner with the state of California to provide nutritious dairy products to individuals and families who need it most right now. Even though they are facing hardship in these uncertain times, our farm families remain dedicated in their commitment to supporting the communities in which we live and work.”

Food banks have seen an increase in demand of over 70% compared to the previous year, while farmers and ranchers have seen their market decrease by 50% because of the sharp drop-off in demand for fresh produce, dairy products, meat and other commodities in the foodservice sector.

The shelter-in-place orders have caused schools, restaurants and other foodservice businesses to sharply reduce or eliminate purchases. With no market for their commodities, many farmers, dairy operators and others have been forced to dump or plow under food because they can’t afford to pay to harvest, process and ship finished products to food banks.

The Farm to Family Program will facilitate food donations from farmers and ranchers by supporting food production, processing and distribution of the food supply chain, including offsetting the costs of picking, packing and transporting donated commodities. The program is partnering with 41 food banks serving all 58 California Counties.

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About Farm Credit:

American AgCredit, CoBank, Farm Credit West, Farm Credit Services Colusa-Glenn, Fresno Madera Farm Credit, Golden State Farm Credit and Yosemite Farm Credit are cooperatively owned lending institutions providing agriculture and rural communities with a dependable source of credit. For more than 100 years, the Farm Credit System has specialized in financing farmers, ranchers, farmer-owned cooperatives, rural utilities and agribusinesses. Farm Credit offers a broad range of loan products and financial services, including long-term real estate loans, operating lines of credit, equipment and facility loans, cash management and appraisal and leasing services…everything a “growing” business needs. For more information, visit www.farmcreditalliance.com.

 

About Dairy Farmers of America:

Dairy Farmers of America is a national, farmer-owned dairy cooperative focusing on quality, innovation and the future of family dairies. While supporting and serving more than 13,000 family farmers, DFA works with some of the world’s largest food companies to develop ingredients that satisfy their customers’ cravings while staying committed to social responsibility and ethical farming. For more information, please visit dfamilk.com.

 

About Hilmar Cheese Company:
Hilmar Cheese Company, Inc. improves lives around the world as a leading producer of wholesome dairy products. Founded in 1984, Hilmar Cheese Company and its division, Hilmar Ingredients, serve customers in more than 50 countries. State-of-the art production facilities in California and Texas convert high-quality milk received from local independent dairy farms into a variety of nutritious cheese and whey ingredients. The company specializes in the production of cheddar and American-style cheeses utilized by private label and national brand companies worldwide. Its Hilmar Ingredients division manufactures and markets globally a wide range of whey protein and lactose products. Committed to continuous improvement, innovation and sustainability, Hilmar Cheese Company strives to make products that benefit all involved from our customers to our suppliers to our employees and communities. Together, we deliver the promise of dairy. www.hilmarcheese.com