ORLAND, Calif. — Growers should form partnerships with local government planners to have input on land-use policies that could maximize their farms’ earnings potential, a Sacramento-based official told them on Nov. 7.
While working with government is “not an arena they normally like to play in unless they have to,” farmers can benefit from the relationships, said David Schabazian, a manager for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
Schabazian is leading a project called the Rural-Urban Connections Strategy, a nearly decade-long effort to more explicitly include rural areas in the region’s land-use and transportation planning decisions.
He said the project has demonstrated to regulators and others that agriculture outside town plays a key role in an urban area’s economy as well as providing environmental benefits such as wildlife habitat and flood control.
“You cannot keep your heads in the sand anymore,” Schabazian told about 75 growers and others in an exhibit hall at the Glenn County fairgrounds. “You have to engage with government.”
While there’s much talk about an urban-rural divide, “we are actually more connected in California than most people understand,” he said.
Schabazian was the keynote speaker at the second annual North State Innovations in Agriculture conference, which was held Nov. 7-8 and included talks on cutting-edge technologies, product demonstrations and a trade show.
The conference, which also was to include California Department of Food and Agriculture secretary Karen Ross, took on a simpler format after last fall’s inaugural Precision Ag Expo and Farm Business Forum offered two tracks of speakers and presentations over two days.
Fairgrounds manager Ryann Newman started the conference last year to engage growers in the mid-Sacramento Valley region, some of whom told her they’d like to learn more about all the new ag-related technology in California.
Schabazian’s opening remarks centered on the work of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which is tasked with building detailed economic forecasts in its role as a conduit for federal transportation funds. The agency launched its rural project in 2008 after hearing criticism that its land use and transportation planning lacked adequate attention to the region’s outskirts, according to its website.
As a result, the agency has learned a lot about the region’s agricultural production, which not only has helped it map new roads with an eye toward helping circulation in rural areas but also armed it with information to give to regulators, Schabazian said.
As some 50,000 acres of farmland a year is lost to residential development, SACOG’s goal is to help the ag that remains generate more revenue with less land, he said. Part of that effort may be to work with air quality regulators to ease burdens on local processing plants, he said.
“The challenge is a lack of infrastructure,” Schabazian said. “We seem to be closing more processing facilities than we’re opening.”
While a shuttered plant may mean reduced emissions, the result is that trucks have to travel farther to deliver crops to the processors that remain, sending more exhaust into the air, he said.
Farmers face other challenges, too, including water and labor availability, he said. The agency has received funding from the USDA to work on water management strategies, he said, and local governments can help attract labor by providing affordable housing for farmworkers.
Schabazian pointed to Napa County, which received $250,000 in this year’s state budget for farmworker housing, according to the Napa Valley Register.
Improving the profitability of farms helps the urban economy, too, Schabazian said.
“For every job on the farm there are two jobs in town” in industries that support agriculture, he said.