CalCAN and our coalition member the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) have co-sponsored AB 552, authored by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura). The bill was unanimously passed by the Assembly Agriculture Committee on March 15th with a 8 ayes-to-0 noes vote and will move to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.¹
CalCAN and CAFF were joined by 33 farmers, technical assistance providers, and advocates who signed on in support of the bill.
AB 552 proposes the creation of a new program at the Department of Conservation (DOC) to fund equipment sharing programs that allow farmers to borrow or lease high-value equipment from regional agricultural centers that purchase and maintain equipment for health soil practices, on-farm conservation practices, storage, and processing. Furthermore, the program would support training for farmers on new and innovative small-farm equipment, equipment maintenance, as well as cooperative development on how to participate and design farmer cooperatives.
At the hearing, Assemblymember Bennett shared, “I think we all know that farm equipment, particularly expensive farm equipment, can be a real challenge for farmers – particularly small farmers, disadvantaged farmers, [and] low income farmers.” Several Assembly Agriculture Committee members thanked Assemblymember Bennett and shared their support for the bill, and joined as co-authors.
Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry commented, “I want to thank you, Assemblymember Bennett, for bringing this forward. I work really hard trying to get our small farmers to be able to thrive and be successful, and this is one less thing they would have to worry about.” Assemblymember Villapuda agreed, adding “I live in the ag community, too. I know how hard it is, even for the new farmers.” Assemblymember Wood also thanked Assemblymember Bennett for the bill and spoke of the small organic farms in his district.
While California leads the nation in agricultural production, the number of family farms decreases with each agricultural census as farmers face a myriad of pressures and challenges including increased costs, drought, and corporate consolidation. Small and medium-scale, historically underserved, and beginning farmers and ranchers face significant barriers in accessing infrastructure resources to grow and support their agricultural operations and there is little infrastructure or technical support available.
The purchase of farm equipment is typically the highest capital expense for farmers after land and this can be a big barrier for small, underserved, and beginning farmers with limited cash flow. These small-scale and often biologically diverse farming operations require a greater variety of costly equipment, some of which is only used a few times a year. For example, for equipment such as a wood chipper, compost spreader or seed-drill, which supports farmers to implement conservation practices that protect and improve soil health and sequester carbon, costs can start at $5,000. Seventy-five percent of California’s 70,000 farms operate with net farm incomes under $25,000 dollars or with net losses annually.² Therefore, high-value equipment is out of financial reach for these growers.
Furthermore, as the majority of beginning farmers fail in the first year of operation often due to major infrastructure costs, shared equipment such as cold storage (starting cost $6,000) or other shared infrastructure could alleviate major costs and allow them to successfully enter into the farming industry. These infrastructure investments can also support established farmers in building their capacity to access local markets. Equipment sharing will also help small farmers to reduce emissions through adopting climate-smart agricultural practices and utilizing low emission equipment (e.g., electric tractors) by making the necessary infrastructure available to them.
CalCAN has heard from many farmers and technical assistance providers in our network that lack of access to equipment is a barrier to adopting conservation practices. Nathanael Gonzalez-Siemens, owner of Fat Uncle Farms, shared his experience saying, “Access to equipment was a major challenge when we started. We ultimately partnered with our farming neighbors to purchase and refurbish the implements we needed but couldn’t individually afford. We hope this bill will lead to the formation of more alliances like ours as it could really make a difference, especially for beginning and socially-disadvantaged farmers.” Gonzalez-Siemens also sits on the Natural and Working Lands Expert Advisory Committee which supports the implementation of AB 1757.
There are other potential benefits to equipment coops when they are connected with essential technical resources and assistance: they can support farmers to develop greater community-based sharing economies and increase community bonds between farmers. Offering training programs on equipment and cooperatives models through these equipment sharing hubs can help small and undeserved farmers organize to share other essential resources such as knowledge and build farmer relationships.
Want to support AB 552? Here’s how!
- Sign on to our support letter here.
- Contact Anna Larson (firstname.lastname@example.org) to learn more or to share your story of how equipment sharing could help your farm operation.
¹ Three members were not able to be present due to flooding emergencies in their districts.
² USDA 2017 Census of Agriculture, Table 5, available at: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/CDQT/chapter/1/table/5/state/CA/year/2017