Posts Tagged With: organic farm
For years organic farmers ran small-scale operations because of the intense amount of attention and time involved in growing organic produce. Recently, say in the past 10 years, there have been great strides in research on pest control and more efficient organic farming practices (See post Organic is More than What You Eat). This has made it possible for the big guys to get into the market. This has also resulted in lowering the prices of organic produce due to supply and demand.
This creates a conundrum for supporters of small family farms. How so? The big guys can sell their produce for less since they have such large quantities. They can glut the market and bring down prices for all organic farmers. They are less vulnerable to such market changes since they usually grow large acreage of conventional produce as well. The small- to mid-sized family organic farmers cannot weather the price wars so easily.
The larger corporate farms can purchase materials in bulk for less. Small farmers have to pay full price. Add to that the price of labor. Last year there was a labor shortage in our area. The large packinghouses increased their wages to attract workers. For the first time in our 38 years of farming, we could not get enough help. So, we had to raise our wages so as not to lose the employees we had. This was great for the farm laborers, but tough for the smaller farmers.
Food safety is another conundrum. Who can argue with the need for a safe food supply? The large guys have lawyers and can hire special personnel just to handle the paperwork and training necessary to comply with the new federal food safety regulations (FSMA). Us little guys have to do all the paperwork ourselves which takes us away from the fields which means we can’t keep as close a watch on our crops which means the quality may suffer. Thankfully there are two of us to shoulder the work load. Some small farmers are single, though, and this new legislation has caused many to quit farming altogether.
Consumers and growers of organic produce often also support food justice issues. Low cost organic food is essential to helping underprivileged communities gain access to nutritious and safe food. On the other hand, small- to mid-sized family farms, like any business, cannot continue unless the sales price exceeds the cost of putting it in the box. That is why a recent survey found that the majority of small farmers do not have farming as their only source of income. Many work an off farm job just to keep farming.
Here is a list of costs and expenses for us to grow, pick and pack our fruit. Think about what your family spends on some of these items and multiply that by 100 (approximately how many acres of trees we have).
Water is used nearly year-round to irrigate the trees and we are charged both by use and number of acres.
Electricity is used to run the pumps to get the water to irrigate the trees.
Fuel is used for tractors, trucks and forklifts as well as weed eaters.
Labor: We pay 20 workers $9.00 per hour for 10 hours per day 7 days a week during harvest plus overtime.
Farming materials: Compost, other organic soil and tree supplements, organic pest control materials
Farm upkeep: Planting new trees, leveling the fields, spreading compost, removal and grinding of old trees
Maintenance: Oil changes, parts for fixing equipment, labor for fixing equipment, cleaning equipment
Packing materials: boxes, pads, fruit trays, pallets, stickers and sticker guns
Portable Restrooms and maintenance, shade tents and water jugs
Food Safety: Minimum of $200 per hour for annual inspections that take up to 8 hours to complete
Insurance for workers, farm vehicles and liability
The prices on most of these expenses has increased steadily over the years.
Approximate cost (taking the above expenses into consideration) to put fruit in the box: $16.00 per box
Income: Average of $28.00 per 2 layer lug box (average 56 pieces of fruit per box)
Approximate net income: $12.00 per box
Now consider we have the usual household expenses as well.
Farmers are experts at pinching pennies. Our pennies are getting pretty thin.
Driving around the Central San Joaquin Valley of California this time of year you see farms waking up from their winter slumber. Some apricot, nectarine, peach, plum, and almond trees are already in bloom.
This means the sound of spray rigs fills the air day and night. There is a window of time when the delicate blossoms that will one day turn into delicious fruits and nuts need protection from disease and insects. So, farmers and/or farm employees must apply the various precautionary chemicals or organic compounds so that the future crop will be productive and profitable.
This is also the time when you can see the difference between organic and conventional farming practices. Never fear, this is not intended to be one of those blogs bashing “those” farmers. This is simply an observation of what is happening this time of year here in California, long before there is anything edible on the trees.
The reader can take this information and, hopefully, add it to their pool of knowledge regarding the differences between conventional and organic farming practices.
One of the most obvious differences can be seen in the condition of the ground or soil. Ask any organic farmer and they will tell you one of the most difficult challenges is weed control. Weeds use up water and can choke other plants by taking away their light or competing for nutrients from the soil. On the other hand, cover crops (the right kind of weeds) can actually add nutrients to the soil and can prevent the ground from drying out as quickly, thus saving water.
Another problem with weeds is they can be skin irritants such as stinging nettle. Yet, nettle can also be harvested and dried to make tea that may have some health benefits.
In orchards with stone fruit, the weeds harbor beneficial insects that provide integrated predatory pest management (IPPM) in the summertime. That means good bugs eat bad bugs. They also provide cover for wildlife such as the California Quail that inhabit our farm. Quail are a favorite food of Red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey. So, we see them on the farm, too. Great Egrets have even taken a stroll in the orchards.
Regardless of whether organic fruits and nuts are proven more nutritional and safe for eating, organic farming practices have been proven to increase biodiversity on the farm and to enrich the soil so that it will continue to be productive in the long-run. So, organic is more than what you eat. Which orchard would you rather take a stroll in?
Sorry to leave our followers hanging after our previous post, but the good news is that Naylor Organics is still in business, for another year, at least. Our buyers accepted a letter of intent to be 3rd party certified. Also good news is we have a lot of fruit and it all looks and tastes great. Even better, the prices are good so far which, hopefully, will make up for the increase in wages.
A fellow farmer and friend of ours has not been so fortunate this year. He is practically begging people to come and pick his green beans since he could not find enough people to do the work and could not afford the increase in wages to attract them. He is not set up for U-pick, however, so insurance issues are keeping gleaners away. So sad when you cannot even give good produce away due to regulations and insurance.
U-pick Going Strong
Our U-pick has also grown this year. Believe it or not, there are few U-pick farms in our area, the agriculture belt of California. People are finding us, though, and having a great time harvesting their own fruit. We also have expanded our direct on-farm sales. Right now we have 3 varieties of apricots, 2 varieties of plums, 2 varieties of nectarines, and peaches available for people to pick or pick up and enjoy. Always call ahead for availability. The 100 plus degree days will make the fruit drop quickly. Great jam and jelly making time.
You might be thinking it is too early, but the fruit is all ahead by two weeks due to the weather conditions this year. So start thinking about purchasing California fruit now.
We sell most of our fruit wholesale to retailers who increase the price to suit their profit margin. Our asking price per box is based upon how much it costs to produce a quality box of fruit. This means the cost of production including maintaining and repairing our equipment, organic materials to help prevent pests from ruining our crops, electricity for pumping irrigation water, mortgage payments, labor, packing boxes and supplies, fuel for deliveries, etc. Labor went up $1.00 per hour this year around here due to the labor shortage. Also, the Alta Irrigation District will begin charging farmers for water usage in the near future.
On top of all this, the Obama administration has decided to do something that has never been done before in the United States. Farmers will now be required to have their farms inspected to ensure they are following good agricultural practices (GAPs). The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law in 2011 by President Obama to address, in a proactive way, the occurrences of food-borne illness outbreaks to quell consumers’ concerns. Unfortunately, all policies have unintended consequences. Those who drafted FSMA must have had large farms or corporate farms in mind because the paperwork required to comply with the regulations is enormous, at least it seems so for mid- to small-sized independent farmers like us. Also, it costs a great deal to implement the changes required. Large farmers who have accountants or lawyers to do the paperwork are only out the expense. But, as the old saying goes, “time is money,” too.
Some old fart farmers are blessed with sons and/or daughters that are following in their footsteps and can handle some of the paperwork. We are blessed with an awesome crew that works hard and does an amazing job, but the two of us do most all the maintenance, deliveries, agricultural inputs, irrigating, (mostly Mike) and paperwork (mostly Nori) ourselves. The food safety requirements have increased the paperwork exponentially in the past two years. I worked from 6:00 AM to 9:00 PM on our GAPs policy alone yesterday. And FSMA has not even been finalized, yet. The comment period has been extended to September 16th.
There are some food safety advocates that are upset that it is taking so long to get FSMA passed. These same advocates tend to be supporters of local food and small farmers. What they don’t realize is that many mid- to small-sized farmers are finding FSMA a nightmare. FSMA determines the size of farm by the gross income, not amount of land. Since we sell our fruit commercially, the stores who purchase our fruit are requiring us to be 3rd part certified already, regardless. This means that we have to pay a private company or the USDA to audit our food safety plan. The minimum cost is $199.00 per hour and the audit usually takes 3 to 4 hours.
The bottom line is, we have ripe fruit ready to pick and few companies to sell it to unless we are certified ~ even though we are certified organic and have never experienced a food-borne illness outbreak from our farm. For us, this means a huge loss unless the companies will give us more time (and, of course, they will not likely pay us any more for our fruit).
For the consumer, this will mean fewer choices at the market. As I say in my blog post What Do Consumers Want? consumers can’t have it all. Buying local does not help rural farmers like us who are in the agricultural belt of California where Fresno is the largest local market. We depend upon consumers in other cities and states to purchase our fruit in order to make ends meet.
This year, the consumer will likely not notice much difference in the stores because there was a good set for stone fruit. Last year there was a shortage due to weather-related issues. The fluctuation in the availability of fruit from year-to-year means the real impact of FSMA may not be felt until several years after its implementation. The FDA and Cornell University are working together to bring farmers and those who advise farmers up to speed on FSMA. They attempt to quell farmers’ concerns by saying they are there to help them negotiate the process. That is all well and good, but for farmers like us, time and money are two commodities that they cannot supply and are what we need the most to implement the regulations and keep farming.
P.S. A neighbor and long-time fellow farmer just stopped by and told us this will be his last year farming. He has done farmer’s markets for years. The increase in wages is the nail in the coffin for him. His son will likely buy his farm, so it will remain in the family which is wonderful, but this is another example of how tough it is for small farmers right now.
P.S.S. Another neighbor and long-time farmer just sold his farm to a corporate farming operation. That means there is now only one other small family farmer in our vicinity.
Happy Groundhog Day!
These are our early nectarines showing off their colors. Thankfully we have had a good cold winter so the trees can go dormant. This usually means a good set for the fruit. Just after I took these photos, Mike disked the field to prepare for frost. The ground is now a rich brown color beneath the trees.
We’re Open for Business
This is a view of our farm stay from behind the house. We are open from February to August. Check out our website here. These young trees are for our U-pick. We have apricots, peaches, plums, and nectarines for your picking pleasure beginning in late May.
Not bad for the first year of our blog. Thank you to all our followers and may 2013 be a fruitful one for us all.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.
December 20, 2012 Freeze
We woke up this morning to a winter wonderland, but not of snow. We rarely get snow in the central San Joaquin Valley. Frost, on the other hand, is not uncommon this time of year. About every three to five years we get a hard frost (low 20s to high teens F.). This is NOT good. Tulare County, where we live, is a large citrus growing area with over 111,ooo acres of trees. A hard frost can cause severe damage, not only to the fruit, but to the local economy as well.
We only have a few trees in our family orchard in the front of the house. We set up a sprinkler to protect the orange, lemon, and pummelo trees.
Young stone fruit trees are also susceptible to frost damage. According to our thermometer, it got down to 28 degrees last night. This could be a problem. Potential damage also depends upon how long it stays cold, however. Kind of like frostbite in humans. The longer it stays below freezing, the greater the chance of damage.
Some larger growers have wind machines to protect the fruit. Others run irrigation water or sprinklers. The purpose of the wind is to create turbulence that mixes warm from higher in the air with cold air so that the air around the tree stays warmer. The water or sprinklers create a freezing fog or ice covering so that the temperature stays at 32 degrees. Lemon trees are more delicate than orange trees. The problem with using sprinklers is that sometimes the limbs break because of the weight of the ice.
The fruit damage may not show up right away, though. What causes damage is when the little juice cells freeze, they expand, like ice cubes, and the tiny walls or membranes break down. This makes them dry out so that the citrus is not as juicy, and, thus not as sweet. Learn more about frost protection for citrus here. See more of Jack Frost’s Handiwork here.
What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?
We had the opportunity to give a farm tour to some young farmers the other day. This passionate group is developing community gardens in under-served communities otherwise known as “food deserts.” They also glean fruit from farms and backyard trees to help supply the local food banks.
They were full of questions about organic farming and Mike shared his wisdom and expertise with them. Our dog, Penney, enjoyed all the attention, too. It is great to know that there are young people interested in using their own time and resources to meet the needs of others. This next generation has many more tools when it comes to networking and finding resources than the previous one. They can use technology to farm more efficiently and research topics to gain knowledge. Still, it’s nice to know us old farts have something to contribute, too.
Mike loves sharing the knowledge he’s gained in his 33 years of farming with others, young and old. Some things about farming will never change, though. For one, it is just plain hard work. It’s hot and dirty, too, especially here in the central San Joaquin Valley. Also, it is unpredictable as I wrote about in another post. No matter how much technology or science you have, the weather cannot be controlled. There is an element of faith needed to farm.
Us old fart farmers are doers. This new generation are doers and thinkers. When things go south on the farm, we tighten our belts, pull up our bootstraps and work even harder the next year. Young farmers may do all this, but they also reach out to each other for support and look for remedies beyond the farm. They do not isolate themselves which can lead to discouragement. Rather they seek solutions so that they can continually improve their practices and products in the future.
Having said that, we, too, are always looking for ways to improve and we do reach out to others, but we sometimes lack the energy and abilities of youth to implement our ideas. Kudos to young farmers! By the way, our door is always open, if you have any questions you think us old fart farmers can help you with.