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Practical UC Course on Specialty Crops Production

The Issue

Over the last few years numerous specialty crops have become of great interest to small-scale growers. About 800 producers in Sonoma and Marin Counties have planted approximately 2,500 acres in specialty vegetables, berries, mandarins, cut flowers, chestnuts, Christmas trees and specialty tree fruits. Every year, hundreds of these and other small-scale land owners are looking for information on crop production methods. They usually need basic information on types of alternative crops, specific varieties, land evaluation, collecting and analyzing soil samples, farming equipment, irrigation, pest control, postharvest handling and direct marketing. It is very difficult to get a significant amount of information on such an array of topics to them, especially on a one-on-one basis during a farm visit.

What Has ANR Done?

Since 1987, an 18-week course on specialty crop production has been taught by UCCE annually through Santa Rosa Junior College. This course involves three hours of lecture per week plus time in the field to get hands-on training in seeding and transplanting vegetables, pruning berries and fruit trees, measuring irrigation system efficiency and tasting various types of specialty fruit crops. The students range from young people with an interest in agriculture to existing landowners looking for alternative ideas. They are shown demonstration plots and working farms with most of the locally grown crops. The demonstration plots on chestnuts, mandarins, apples, oil olives and berries are used to show the students what those crops taste like, and also to demonstrate how they are planted, spaced, irrigated, pruned, harvested, packaged and sold.

The Payoff

Specialty crops course helps farmers get started

About 400 growers have taken the course and many of them are now successful producers. Specific information on berry varieties has helped the local berry growers stay in business by growing plants that tolerate our winter rains and produce early, flavorful, large-sized fruit. Marketing information has opened up new markets for farmers with specifics on how to set up a farmer's market booth, start a subscription farm, or appropriately package their produce for the wholesale market. The course has saved growers thousands of dollars by teaching them how to eliminate unnecessary pest control sprays and by demonstrating practical methods of vegetable bed planting with mechanical weed control. The course has established a good working relationship between the UC advisor and farmers who have taken it. There is also a network of past students to help new students.

Clientele Testimonial

"This was a fanastic course that really got me started in the gourmet lettuce business."--Mike Steinberg.
"The Specialty Crops Course really helped us develop our organic apple orchard, which has been a great success." Sally and Mike Gale


Supporting Unit: Sonoma County

Paul Vossen, UCCE, 2604 Ventura Ave, Santa Rosa, CA 95403 (707) 565-2621