Adding value to agriculture is the goal for Solano and Yolo county leaders looking to build on an economic asset already in the region.
That goal was the topic of discussion Wednesday during the first Solano and Yolo joint economic summit at the University of California, Davis.

Farmers, bankers and government leaders made up the more than 100 people in attendance interested in working together to further build the region's agricultural industry that generated $2.5 billion in 2009 between the two counties.

The group reviewed advantages that the counties already have, but also some of the disadvantages that hold back the potentially booming industry.

"This is another step in a journey we believe in," said Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez. "This is the foundation to know what our asset base is and to build off it."

According to the group, Solano and Yolo counties share strengths, including an abundant supply of water, location between Sacramento and San Francisco, soil, access to markets, infrastructure, high crop value and a skilled workforce.

The summit's purpose was to take the information shared and turn it into strategic actions.

Areas of opportunity identified by the group include crop processing, reaching the global market and agritourism.

However, taking advantage of those opportunities will pose quite a challenge. Government leaders mentioned the water war between Northern and Southern California and the impacts on the Delta water, air quality standards that were designed to protect agriculture actually hamper growth in processing crops. Additionally, agritourism has the potential to bring in revenue, but the impact to local residents is perceived by some as a negative.

Glenda Humiston, state director for the USDA Rural Development, encouraged the group of agriculture supporters to be vocal about California as a whole creating an agricultural strategy.

Humiston explained that she regularly hears that if the housing market was back on track, the economy would pick up.

She believes the opposite.

"You wouldn't put a roof on a house before a foundation is laid," she said. "Until we get these (agricultural) jobs out there, they can't afford the house."

She encouraged the group to look at things differently.

Humiston explained that everyone needs to be involved in boosting the agricultural industry.

"Make a case to the business community why buying local will benefit them," she said, adding that instead of having city economic developers trying to bribe companies to relocate to the area, reach out to those already here.

"Things aren't going to be fixed by another farmers' market," she said. "It all comes down to collaboration, start using current resources."

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor picked out a few steps the counties can take in the next few months, such as presenting the information to each of the supervisor boards, figuring out a way to hire an agriculture ombudsman and including those at the summit that are willing to help in the planning.

"Agriculture is not a boutique industry, you can't just leave it on a shelf," he said. "It has to be a business enterprise."

Solano County Agricultural Commissioner Jim Allan said the summit was very constructive and gave definitive direction.

"Now it's time to take this to the broader ag industry and to the community," he said. "I think they will (accept it). They have an entrepreneurial spirit that will respond."