Farm News: Please tell us about the history of the UCCE in Sonoma County.
UC Cooperative Extension has been in Sonoma County for over 100 years. UCCE was originally founded to bring information from land grant universities to farmers and homemakers in the county. Over the decades, we have expanded our program delivery to better meet the ever-changing needs of agriculture industries, homeowners and youth.
Farm News: How long have you been at UCCE Stephanie?
I came to Sonoma County as an intern in 1984; and I have been the livestock and range management advisor since 1985, 37 years! I was raised in Idaho on a sheep farm, where growing up I was active in FFA and 4-H. I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of Idaho in Animal Science and my Master of Science in Animal Science from the University of Wyoming. My position at UCCE was my first career job out of college. In 2005, I had the opportunity to attend Oregon State University, receiving my PhD in Range Management & Ecology, 2010.
Farm News: How does UCCE work with local farmers and ranchers?
UCCE has a unique relationship with our local farming and ranching community. We are not regulators, we are educators. Our mission is to provide information on production, management, marketing and the commodities that are present in Sonoma County. We conduct research on emerging issues from invasive species, water quantity/quality, and new grazing and farming techniques. For example, we have researched invasive species management on grape vines, prescribed fire and grazing to better manage vegetation, and climate smart agriculture techniques, such as manure management and compost. Most of our research is done by working with agriculture producers, conducting the research on their properties.
Farm News: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities for our ag producers from your perspective?
The main challenge I see is that the value of local agriculture is being disregarded and/or discounted. Agriculture is viewed as the problem, not the solution to make Sonoma County more climate resilient.
There are lots of opportunities that stem from our collaborations with the producers, clientele, agencies, and others that we engage with. The great part of our job at UCCE is that every day is different. The first call of the day recently identified invasive species, fire, disaster preparedness, etc., gets us moving in a direction to determine the cause and solution to the issues. It is always changing. Our goal is to be innovative, creative and to work with our farmers and ranchers to find solutions to problems locally.
Farm News: Can you elaborate on the biggest issues you see for our ag community?
The biggest issues are almost entirely climate related. We have a great opportunity and need to promote ag as a great climate mitigator. At UCCE we are looking at innovative ways to reduce fire impacts, drought impacts, and improve air quality. Ag will play a very big and positive part in mitigating climate change.
Farm News: Are there any programs at UCCE that are especially impactful right now?
Staff is working closely with California Department of Food and Agriculture on their SWEEP program, Healthy Soils Initiative, and Alternative Manure Management programs. All of these aid landowners in implementing climate smart agriculture practices.
We are also launching a coordinated grazing collaborative, with participants of any scale – including small neighborhood acreages to large scale collectives of over 100 acres. We will assess what it will take to bring back grazing to manage vegetation for many resource goals. There are many reasons a landowner may want to bring grazing back, including fire mitigation, carbon sequestration, agriculture viability or wildlife management. We are reaching out to landowners, but please feel free to call us if you are interested.
Farm News: Any final information you want our Farm Bureau members to take away?
Yes! We are staffing up and will provide even more services to our agriculture community, with the addition of Fire Science, Viticulture, Specialty Crop and Soil & Water Advisors, joining our dairy, forestry, livestock/range and IPM advisors. Our agriculture ombudsman is actively working with county departments, agencies and funders to expand opportunities for underserved farmers and ranchers. We have also enhanced our Food Systems programs, for homeowners and gardeners, with our Master Gardeners and Master Food Preservers programs, along with our expanding 4-H youth programs.