PlacerGrown cancels this weekend’s annual farm conference

Low projected turnout blamed for decision to pull plug on Lincoln event
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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With days to go, PlacerGrown has decided to cancel this weekend’s annual farm conference in Lincoln.

The gathering of agricultural interests has been an annual staple of the early winter in Placer County, with as many as 225 attendees taking in seminars, talks and the opportunity to network with their peers.

But a variety of factors teamed to keep the number of early registrants down and that projected into the possibility of a financial loss for PlacerGrown, said Placer-Nevada County Farm Advisor Roger Ingram of the University of California Cooperative Extension program.

Ingram said registration was at 70 when the PlacerGrown board decided last week that it was too risky to put it on and lose money.

“There will be nothing this year and maybe next year, it will come  back in a different form,” Ingram said.

Ingram said that while the county certainly needs more farmers, agriculture is still alive and well. The best evidence comes from the interest in courses UC Davis is offering in the county that fill up quickly or are at near-capacity, he said.

Popular courses include a two-day marketing course, a six-day farm-business planning class and beginning farming instruction.

“Beginning farming has a waiting list and our grazing course has its highest level of interest in 15 years,” Ingram said.

The annual farm conference started in 1995. With the exception of 2004, when it would have conflicted with a national event in Sacramento, the event has continued to draw farmers. Last year, 170 people registered for a Lincoln High School session that attracted farmers, ranchers and gardeners to learn about production, management and marketing from agricultural industry leaders.

“The conference has been able to provide a wide variety of keynote speakers and workshops to spur people into more direct marketing and diversifying,” Ingram said.

One offshoot was the establishment of a meat buyers club after the 2006 appearance by author and lecturer Joel Salatin as a speaker, he said.

The conference’s emphasis on direct marketing may have also sealed its eventual demise.

Ingram said that more farmers are taking part in farm markets and that includes selling their winter crops and diversified product range in winter months when they may not have necessarily been marketing products in the past. The Auburn market, for instance, is year-round and held on Saturdays.

The cost of attending may have stopped some people from signing on.

“It’s tougher with the economy,” Ingram said. “With the registration fee at $40 or $50, and that only covers costs, that’s $100 for two people.”

With a monthly farmer breakfast attracting 25 people recently at Wings restaurant in North Auburn, the agricultural community is finding ways to network, he said.

“The conference has served its purpose and while it may go away, I’m sure PlacerGrown will do something that resonates to bring the agriculture community together, “ Ingram said.