Panel Discussion: Research and Extension Needs as Seen by Farmers
Needs Assessment Research and Extension Needs as Seen by a Small Fruit Grower
Some fruit and vegetable growers are located in remote areas that are isolated from other growers and/or have limited financial resources. They stand to benefit from the Agricultural Extension System. The following suggestions can help meet the needs of fruit and vegetable growers:
- Maintaining communication be-tween Extension personnel across state lines.
- Create a database that contains a description of the agricultural publications from all the states plus information on how to order these publications.
- Develop and publish "cookbooks" for various production systems.
- "Brainstorm" across Extension and USDA agencies to help producers find inexpensive ways to do things.
- Extension personnel needs to "think-through" the entire pro-duction process as if they were a producer implementing a new pro-duction system.
- Field-test old tractors with various implements to determine their suitability.
- Register herbicides and pesticides for minor crops.
- Research alternatives to chemi-cals.
- New production systems such as no-till vegetables on hills, and starting vegetables in flat beds in January without the benefit of a greenhouse needs to be researched.
- Research to develop fresh market fruit and vegetable varieties.
- Research is needed to determine the consistency of varieties, i.e. why does the same variety of produce taste different when grown in different locations.
Develop and maintain a current database describing equipment and horticultural supplies.
Research and Extension Needs as Seen by California Farmers
California small farms are unique in the diversity of crops grown and their wide ethnic diversity. Over 250 different crops are grown and, in some counties, some are grown over a 365-day growing season. Many regions specialize in a particular commodity. Such regions as the Salinas Valley, which is known as the "lettuce capital of the world;" Reedley, the "fruit basket of the nation; " Selma, the "raisin capital of the nation;" and Castroville, the "artichoke capital of the world."
According to the 1992 Census of Agriculture, 77 percent of the 77,600 farms in California grossed less than $100,000 in sales. They are small farms and mini farms by one definition. The small farms tend to have limited acreage, limited physical resources (tractors and equipment), cultural and language barriers, and/or limited knowledge of basic crop production principles. Many of the small farms, growers raise specialty crops with higher cash values, to compensate for smaller acreage. Sixteen percent of all small and mini farms are owned by minorities, the two largest groups being Southeast Asians and Hispanics.
Fresno County has more large and small farms than any other county in California. Below are examples of some of the types of crops grown and the acres under cultivation in 1995;
745 acres of green beans (97growers)
42 acres of Chinese greens (32 growers)
640 acres of strawberries (82 growers)
30 acres of opo (32 growers)
230 acres of daikon (36 growers)
64 acres of bok choy (33 growers)
693 acres of parsley (4 growers)
11 acres of tomatillo (4 growers)
625 acres of eggplants (180 growers)
98 acres of bittermelon (83 growers)
546 acres of squash (93 growers)
59 acres of gallon (14 growers)
The above list demonstrates the immense diversity of crops grown in Fresno and the limited acreage a farmer may have of any particular crop. The Hmong farmers are an example. They came here from the mountain regions of Laos after the Vietnam War under the refugee status as allies of the United States during the war. They comprise about 62 percent of all Southeast Asian farmers in Fresno county. In a survey conducted in 1992, it was found that:
They are very hard working people doing most of the field operations by hand. Children and relatives help with the planting, weeding, and harvesting. Their understanding of efficient farming practices is very limited.
Research and Extension Needs
The specific needs of small farmers in California vary with the clientele and their educational and cultural backgrounds.
A Southeast Asian farmer who is sprinkling a 15-15-15 granular fertilizer on top of the soil to be irrigated in by furrows certainly needs basic help in fertilizer practices.
A Hispanic farmer who does not know why his yellow crookneck squash stopped producing and began dying needs to understand virus infections and its vectors.
At a statewide Small Farm's Conference in the spring of 1996, a group of farmers expressed their needs. They agreed that "equipment" designed for the small farmer was needed and that putting this information on a home page would be a good way to disseminate the information.
Because both California and Federal EPA registration is required for chemicals in California, registration of pest control chemicals for minor crops are very limited. The need for research into pest control methods (chemical and alternative) is critical. Marketing channels practical for small farmers was another need discussed. Financial assistance from lending institutions, disaster assistance and recordkeeping were also discussed as high priority needs.
Research and Extension Needs As Seen by a Farmer
American agriculture needs more small family operations. Rural America has the infrastructure in place for more people to remain on the land. Roads, schools, churches, and even empty farmsteads are available to people who want to farm.
The number of family farmers has steadily declined throughout the last century. Regardless of high prices, low prices, good weather, bad weather, technological advances, and government subsidies, the trend has been relentless. To stop this trend and encourage more family farmers on the land, we may be able to use the Fund for Rural America to link retiring farmers with beginning farmers. Also, a change in attitude and a positive financial margin will promote small farming. This margin can either be on the cost or revenue side.
We have made great strides in technology. Many economies of size have been achieved. Now, we need technologies, systems, and methods that favor small producers.
We already have some technologies in place, such technologies include: organic production, direct marketing, value-added, intensive/rotational grazing,
low-input pasture-based swine production, and alternative livestock.
Farmers of the 21st century are asking more questions of our researchers. We continue to want more profitability, productivity, and efficiency; but in addition we also want practices that enhance our environment, stimulate our rural commu-nities, and improve our quality of life. Quality of life includes leisure time, spousal happiness, and a positive child-rearing situation. Perhaps interdisciplinary teams of researchers would be needed to address these additional questions.
Farmers still need unbiased, randomized, and replicated research.
Finally, my own wish list for research topics include a bloat-free alfalfa variety, nutritional supplementation information on grass-based systems for various animal species, and information on the "costs" of pesticide usage to yield and society.
Farmers want to work with researchers to reduce the costs of the research and to get their questions answered.
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