Farmers follow the money while an easy out beckons |

Farmers follow the money while an easy out beckons

Pat Patera

Nevada farmers increasingly find it more lucrative to sell their water rights than to keep plugging away in a market with meager returns.

Harvest Your Future, a program to teach farmers how to make money, aims to change that.

Farms, like most businesses in rural Nevada, are struggling, says Kathy Carrico, state training director for the Nevada Small Business Development Center, based at the University of Nevada, Reno. So starting Jan. 16 it will hold 10 weekly classes on Tuesday nights at rural sites including Carson Valley, north Reno, Elko, Ely, Fallon and Winnemucca.

Classes will focus on the business of farming how to cross-market a product, identify a target audience, and expand a customer base.

“It really is about profit,” says Carrico.

The program is funded by a grant from The Western Center for Risk Management Education at Washington State University. The video distance education classes are taught by Kathy Halbardier, a counselor at the Small Business Development Center and co-owner of Tahoe Ridge Winery in Douglas County.

She and nine guest speakers will speak at the various sites, from which the video classes will be broadcast to all. Organizers hope to draw five farmers per site, for a total of 30 participants.

The old commodities system of agriculture, which required no marketing or branding, is no more, says Rick Lattin, program coordinator at the Small Business Development Center in Fallon. He also owns Lattin Farms near Fallon, and during the growing season, trucks his produce to a circuit of 10 farmers markets.

Nationwide, farmers are now developing counter niches, such as the farmer’s market movement. And that has an added benefit an opportunity to test products with the public before planting en masse.

“Before they plant a seed in the ground, they have to know who’s going to buy it,” says Lattin. So program speakers will also address financials, branding, and how to conduct feasibility studies.

The goal is to put the brakes on the steady decline of farmers in Nevada, a microcosm of the trend nationwide.

Throughout the west, says Lattin, water is at issue. It’s becoming more valuable as competition for it increases. But when farmers sell water rights, the result is a dry land dust that compromises quality of life throughout the community.

When that happens, says Jay Davidson, alternative crops and forage specialist at the Cooperative Extension Service, state agencies attempt to revegetate the land with salt desert shrub types like greasewood, rubber rabbitbrush, and four-wing saltbush. That, however, is good news to the pygmy rabbits that graze the range.