The Next Generation of Ranchers

~An interview with a young agriculturalist~

Jake Doonan is currently studying Managerial Economics at UC Davis with an emphasis on agriculture. He is the son of ESLT landowners Dave and Diane Doonan, who own the 818 acre Montgomery Creek Ranch Conservation Easement in Benton Valley. Our AmeriCorps member Victoria Ortiz recently caught up with Jake, asking him about his goals and views on agriculture.

VO: How did you become interested in a career in agriculture?

JD: My grandparents own Cinnamon Ranch (another ESLT conservation easement), and when we lived in Nevada we’d visit and drive the equipment.

VO: What does having your family’s land under an agricultural conservation easement mean for you?

JD: We can keep it. What we struggle with all the time is keeping the place financially feasible. Had we not done that, we would not have been able to keep it.

Jake Doonan helps load cattle on Montgomery Creek Ranch

VO: How does this generation of farmers and ranchers differ from that of your parents?

JD: The centralization of agriculture in most conventional markets has significantly changed ag business, many farmers are focusing primarily on contract work and functioning under much larger company names. It used to be a lot more independent.

VO: What do you think is the biggest obstacle for young agriculturalists?

JD: The regulations and the land prices. Basically, if someone is not already set up on some land or has some resources it’s almost impossible to get started because the lending environment is not very friendly. Making a livable wage on a small scale garden is extremely difficult in comparison to the economies of scale and opportunities a larger operation offers.

Fresh Baled Organic Alfalfa on the Montgomery Creek Ranch

Fresh Baled Organic Alfalfa on the Montgomery Creek Ranch

VO: How can people best support young agriculturalists?

JD: The best way I can think of is to buy local. By choosing foods grown in county, state and country it’s going to help. And the food is fresher! One of the most effective ways to support young agriculturalists is by paying attention on your ballot and researching the issues pertaining to agriculture because there is a lot of propaganda out there.

VO: How do you think that agriculture might change in the next 25 years?

JD: The regulations are probably the biggest change that will affect everyone. They are becoming more and more stringent, and if you’re not of the right size it’s going to be hard to make a small place financially feasible. The market is also unpredictable, for instance the recent development of ethanol was a big deal in the agricultural market.

Matt and Jake Doonan

Jake Doonan (center) and his brother Matt (left) answer questions about their grass fed beef business at ESLT’s annual GardenFest event.

VO: What do you think makes the Eastern Sierra a unique place for farmers/ranchers?

JD: The climate, for one, which is unlike anything else in the state. The mountain water makes a big difference, though we face our own struggles such as wind and lack of water.

VO: Could you describe your family’s current operations? Any plans for the future that you are excited about?

JD: Well right now we’re trying to get back into production. We’ve been experimenting with center pivots and we’re trying to change back over and be as productive as we were. Once we do that there are a lot more options. I’m also working with the grass fed beef cattle.

VO: You and your siblings started a natural beef business, what was one of the most important things you learned through that process?

JD: Essentially, how to do the entire production chain from buying the calf all the way to the retail shelf.

– Good luck Jake in your future endeavors!