Members in the News


Land O’ Lakes Makes 2017 FORTUNE Change the World List

Land O’ Lakes
September 7, 2017

Thanks in large part the efforts of the Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN team, Land O’Lakes made the 2017 FORTUNE “Change the World” list.  Maiden_4cp_lrg

FORTUNE’s annual Change the World list recognizes global companies that have had a positive social impact through activities that are part of their core business strategy. Companies are ranked on three criteria: measurable social impact (which is most heavily weighted), business results and degree of innovation. Consideration is also given to innovative partnerships with competitors, governments or NGOs that represent new forms of collaboration.

This is a tremendous step in illustrating the pivotal role farmers and agriculture play in building a sustainable world. This recognition underscores Land O’Lakes’ commitment of working with farmers and for farmers in an effort to make a meaningful impact on the environment.

Blue Diamond Adds New Production Line

Matt Hamer: Food Business News
August 15, 2017

Blue Diamond Growers increased its almond flour production capacity with the addition of a new processing line in its recently-expanded facility in Salida. The line is optimized for efficiency and cost-effectiveness and features a custom-designed, enclosed conveyance system, Blue Diamond Growers said.BDAlmondFlour_Embedded

“As demonstrated by the new flour processing line, we’re constantly improving our operations with new technologies and updated engineering,” said Bill Morecraft, senior vice-president for the Blue Diamond Almonds global ingredients division. “Our premium-quality almond products reflect the industry best-practices we’ve established in harvesting, storing and processing.”

Blue Diamond’s Salida manufacturing building is located on the company’s existing 44-acre site, which also includes other processing and warehouse facilities. Last year the company built a bulk storage warehouse on the site that is engineered to store up to 60 million lb of almond meats.

State Audit Reveals California Schools Are Not Ensuring Domestic Food Purchases for Children

Rich Hudgins with the California Canning Peach Association speaking to KCRA news. Click HERE to see full video.


Audit Faults ‘Buy American’ Compliance at California Schools

California is home to the nation’s largest agricultural economy, but the state auditor says it does little to ensure schools follow federal rules requiring they serve food produced in the United States.

Jonathan J. Cooper: Associated Press
July 27, 2017

California, home to the nation’s largest agricultural economy, does little to ensure its schools follow federal rules requiring the serving of food produced in the United States, according to an audit released Thursday.

State education officials only recently began checking where school food is produced — and those reviews are too weak, Auditor Elaine Howle concluded.

Six school districts checked had purchased foreign food but failed to adequately justify it, the audit showed.

Education Department officials say the “Buy American” mandate is vague. But they agreed to implement most of the auditor’s recommended improvements.

The audit was prepared at the request of state lawmakers, who took an interest in school food after local farmers and food processors said schools were increasingly turning to foreign suppliers.

In 2015, the Sacramento City Unified School District took heat for buying canned peaches, pears and applesauce from China. The district quickly reversed course and used American suppliers once the food ran out.

“It’s my hope that if we have a little more attention on a broader scale that we will see a decision by other districts to source domestically produced food products into the school feeding program,” said Rich Hudgins, president of the California Canning Peach Association.

California produces nearly all of the nation’s processed peaches — $211 million worth last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Cup-spoon1

The state’s $47 billion-a-year agriculture industry produces a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts, according to the state Department of Food & Agriculture.

“California stands to benefit significantly from compliance with the Buy American requirement,” Howle wrote in a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown.

A 1998 federal law requires school lunch programs to purchase food grown and processed in the U.S. “to the maximum extent practicable.”

The auditor found that the California Department of Education, which distributes $2 billion of federal nutrition money to districts, failed to check for compliance until the 2016-2017 school year. Even then, reviewers didn’t collect enough evidence to justify their conclusions.

The department has also failed to publish the findings online as required by federal law, the auditors found.

Education Department officials say the U.S. Department of Agriculture didn’t require reviews until last year and provides little guidance about what constitutes “the maximum extent practicable.”

The department “is concerned that the report is misleading regarding Education’s obligations and compliance record over the years,” Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Michelle Zumot wrote in response to the audit.

Zumot agreed to improve training for reviewers and post findings online.

Auditors reviewed policies and food purchases at six school districts: Elk Grove, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco and Stockton, and said none had adequate Buy American policies. Only San Diego and San Francisco consistently included Buy American language in contracts with food suppliers.

All six bought food from foreign sources without maintaining documents to justify the purchase, auditors found. Schools can buy foreign food if there is no domestic producer or if U.S products would be significantly more expensive.

Verifying compliance will be difficult because many food labels don’t say where the product was grown or processed, they added.

Agriculture groups are pushing for legislation that would tighten the rules. A state bill, which has cleared the Senate, would require the state to more aggressively review schools’ policies, bid solicitations, contracts and food labels for Buy American compliance.

Legislation introduced in Congress would require schools to get permission from the USDA before buying foreign food unless no domestic producer is available.

Dairy Farmers of America Celebrate World Milk Day and June Dairy Month

Dairy Farmers of America
July 10, 2017

In honor of June Dairy Month, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) members and employees celebrated the company’s core value of community by donating more than $24,000 to the Great American Milk Drive, which provides milk to local Feeding America food banks across the country. DFA’s donation will provide more than 4,800 gallons of milk to those in need.

The June Dairy Month fundraising efforts kicked off June 1 with World Milk Day, a worldwide recognition for the wholesome nutrition of nature’s most perfect food – milk.  Across the country, DFA members and employees hosted World Milk Day events and were encouraged to raise a glass of milk to celebrate their passion and dedication to the industry. DFA pledged to donate one dollar to the Great American Milk Drive, up to $10,000, for every photo posted raising a glass of milk on social media with the hashtags #RaiseAGlass, #WorldMilkDay and @dfamilk. With this effort alone, DFA donated $10,000 to the Great American Milk Drive.
“The dairy industry has a huge impact on helping feed people. In fact, one billion people’s lives depend on dairy farming – so World Milk Day and June Dairy Month offer a great opportunity to celebrate the goodness of milk and those who produce it,” said Monica Massey, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff for Dairy Farmers of America. “Our farmer members and employees are proud to raise their glasses of milk and help make a difference in not only their local communities, but also throughout the world.”

Raising a Glass to Celebrate in Kansas City

glass-of-milk1Additionally, in Kansas City where the Cooperative is loated, DFA surprised and delighted hometown residents on World Milk Day with a mobile milk bar serving a variety of hand-crafted, non-alcoholic flavored milk drinks. DFA’s mobile milk bar made stops at six different locations throughout the city, allowing local residents to enjoy flavored milk, cookies and take their own photos raising a glass.

“We wanted to celebrate World Milk Day in a big way and thought it’d be fun to give Kansas Citians a chance to raise their glasses and enjoy tasting some fun and unique flavors of milk,” said Massey.

Additionally, throughout the entire month of June, money was raised through member and employee monetary donations to the DFA Cares Foundation online giving site to benefit the Great American Milk Drive. The DFA Cares Foundation also made a dollar-for-dollar match for every contribution.

Other June Dairy Month activities across the country included:

  • At DFA headquarters in Kansas City, Kan., staff handed out free milk and cereal to runners after the 10k and half-marathon races of Hospital Hill. Staff also volunteered at Harvesters, the local food bank and helped sort and package 600 pounds of cereal, 300 pounds of carrots and hundreds of boxes of canned goods.
  • The Western Area held two volunteer days during the month, one at Second Harvest Food Bank in Manteca, Calif. and a second at the Orange County Food Bank in Garden Grove, Calif., where they helped sort items and fill nearly 1,100 boxes. The Area also hosted a food drive and collected more than 100 pounds of food from members, staff and customers as a result.
  • Several hundred people attended an event at Mountain View Dairy, owned by DFA member Shelly Dickinson, on June 10 in Loveland, Co. The day was a celebration of June Dairy Month as well as Mountain View Farm’s 100-year anniversary. During the event, attendees toured the dairy and enjoyed food from local vendors. Several calves were also born throughout the day, and the herd vet was onsite to assist and answer questions.
  • On June 23, employees from the Mideast Area office and Eastern Laboratory Services volunteered at the Akron Canton Regional Food Bank. Between bagging items, sanitizing boxes and more, the group helped provide 1,740 meals to those in need.
  • This year marked 33 years that local dairy farm families have come together to prepare and serve a free, dairy-filled breakfast to their community members in Comanche, Texas. More than 600 people were served during the event, which was organized by local dairy families with assistance from area industry groups, including DFA’s Southwest Area staff.
  • In Moss Point, Miss., the second-annual Middleton Farm Dairy Day was held on June 10. More than 600 visitors attended DFA members Jeff and Shane Middleton’s farm and learned about dairy products, made butter, petted the farm’s calves, checked out various machinery and watched live milking demonstrations. Not only was the family event fun-filled with a playground, waterslide and inflatables, but it also brought generations far removed from agriculture onto the farm and exposed them to farm life.

The DFA Cares Foundation was established in 2005 as a nonprofit charitable organization. Through the DFA Cares Foundation, DFA provides disaster relief via product and monetary donations, invests in the future of the industry with scholarships to students pursuing careers in dairy and contributes dairy food and products for those in need.


Placer Food Bank Receives 60,000 Pounds of Donations from Land O’LakesLandolakes

Press Release: Auburn Journal
April 19, 2017

Placer Food Bank is pleased to announce that Land O’Lakes, Inc. donated 40,000 pounds of Macaroni & Cheese and 20,000 lbs. of refrigerated desserts to Placer Food Bank through the Land O’Lakes First Run Program.

The First Run Program has donated more than 4 million pounds of product since it was established in 2010. The program is committed to donating truckloads of fresh product year-round, made specifically for food banks to help alleviate hunger across the United States.

“As a national, farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes is committed to helping the growing number of people who struggle to put food on their table,” said Land O’Lakes Foundation Executive Director Lydia Botham. “The First Run program provides a unique opportunity for Land O’Lakes to offer fresh, nutritious products to families in need.”

“We are very grateful for the generous donation made by Land O’Lakes which is going to go a long way in serving our hunger insecure families, children and seniors in the communities of Placer, El Dorado and Nevada counties,” said Placer Food Bank Executive Director, Dave Martinez. “We look forward to their visit and tour of our facility on April 20. It’s always great when a donor takes interest in what we do, how we do it and where we do it.”

                                                                                       Sunsweet Growers Inc. Celebrates 100 Years Strong

Sunsweet Growers: Cision
April 4, 2017

For over 100 years, Sunsweet has been supporting and inspiring consumers to eat right and enjoy a healthy and well balanced lifestyle. In celebration of its monumental birthday, today Sunsweet launches #Sunsweet100Celebration – a social media-driven content series that will run for 100 days, highlighting key Sunsweet milestones, innovations, surprising facts from Sunsweet growers, vintage advertisements, and more.

“This is such an exciting time for all of us here at Sunsweet,” explains Jeff McLemore, Vice President of North America Marketing for Sunsweet. “It really all started in 1917 as a prune and apricot co-op in California and today we are 250 growers strong, producing 40,000 cases of high quality fruit and juice every single day!”

In tandem with the #Sunsweet100Celebration social media campaign, Sunsweet has created a historical infographic that celebrates the heritage and innovation of the brand over the years. Sunsweet’s history and commitment to its customers is rich – from where it all started with the “father” of California prunes, Louis Pellier, importing prune orchard stock from France to California, to the moment when Sunsweet first introduced the pitted prune to the market, to the latest paramount research that links prunes and bone health in postmenopausal women.

Founded in 1917 as the California Prune and Apricot Growers Association and later changing its name to Sunsweet Growers Inc., today Sunsweet is a leader in providing prunes to 25 percent of the global market. Sunsweet Amaz!n Prunes are an all-natural source of fiber, with 3g of fiber per serving, and only 100 calories. In fact, research shows that eating 5 to 6 prunes a day can help maintain bone mineral density in women. Prunes contain potassium, magnesium and vitamin K, all of which play a vital role in bone health.

All Sunsweet dried fruit products are available nationwide in grocery stores, in the dried fruit aisle or baking aisle.logo-100years

Winegrape Legacy of Nat DiBuduo

Laurie Greene: California Ag Today
August 5, 2016

A 16-year member of the Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers, a statewide marketing cooperative for winegrape farmers from major winegrape growing regions of California, Nat DiBuduo currently serves as the organization’s president and CEO. Likewise, Nat DiBuduo’s family has a long history of growing winegrapes and was the first family to plant varietal winegrapes in the San Joaquin Valley more than 40 years ago.

Eager to discuss this year’s crop, DiBuduo said, “Harvest 2016 is upon us. We started to harvest Pinot Grigio grapes last week that will be going into wine. We’ll be starting Thompson Seedless this week that will go into low-sugar wine and champagne programs,” he noted, adding, “We’re looking forward to it, we are ready for it, and we’ll go forward.”P1020015

Established in 1951, Allied Grape Growers has been providing competitive marketing services, including price negotiations, ever since to its members, which now total nearly 600 from major winegrape regions of the state. DiBuduo summed it up by saying, “There’s plenty of demand, and we think pricing will be better than last year. We’re optimistic.”

Allied also sponsors events aimed at improving workplace health and safety, which also reduces workplace injury and illness costs. In light of the recent heat wave in California, DiBuduo noted one of their top priorities is heat illness prevention. “That’s why most of the winegrape harvesting will be done at night time, which helps the workers,” he said. “So for those people who are picking table grapes or doing other work in the field, we want to make sure that they’re out of the field before it gets hot; practicing good, safe heat stress prevention; and getting plenty of water, time out, and shade.”

“We’re dependent on our labor force,” DiBuduo encapsulated, “and we want to make sure we’re protecting them. And preventing heat stress is important to us,” he said.


California Dairy Turns Cow Waste Into Power

Amy Quinton: Capital Public Radio
May 19, 2016


A covered lagoon anaerobic digester on Case Van Steyn’s dairy farm in Elk Grove, CA. The digester converts cow waste into electricity.

Forty-five percent of California’s methane emissions come from dairies, the largest source of the potent greenhouse gas in the state. The 700 cows on Cace Van Steyn’s dairy farm in Elk Grove excrete about 98,000 pounds of manure and urine every day. All that waste produces methane.

The dairy is now using a flush system to collect that manure from most of the stalls and carry it to a covered lagoon where an anaerobic digester converts the gas into enough electricity to power 125 homes. Van Steyn says there are other benefits.


A covered lagoon anaerobic digester on Case Van Steyn’s dairy farm in Elk Grove, CA. The digester converts cow waste into electricity.

“This helps because it makes the manure much more manageable and easier to access and then if you add the generator part of it that helps generate some cash. It’s a win win I think,” says Van Steyn.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District paid for the largest portion of the $1.4 million project. Another $254,000 came from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We have to access to funding,” says Van Steyn. “If there is access to funding like SMUD is doing, or USDA or people stepping up, then I would suggest that people seriously look at it and see if it can work for their farm.”

Money from the state’s cap and trade program also helped pay for the project.

Cow-Powered Plant Furthers SMUD’s Efforts to Cut Emissions


225kW engine-generator is housed inside this red building on the Van Steyn dairy farm.

Mark Anderson: Sacramento Business Journal
May 18, 2016

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District will unveil its newest cow-powered alternative power plant Thursday at a dairy south of Elk Grove.

Powered by cow waste, the anaerobic digester will generate up to 225 kilowatts of electricity, enough to serve about 125 homes.

What’s more, the system will keep tons of methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas, from escaping into the atmosphere.

The $1.4 million digester is installed in a covered lagoon at the Van Steyn Dairy, which is home to a herd of 650 dairy cows.

Systems such as this have many positive attributes, said Valentino Tiangco, biomass program manager with SMUD. They generate electric power, reduce methane release, create a high-nitrogen fertilizer and reduce odor and flies. Now they also create a payment stream from the value of carbon credits.

California has 1,490 licensed dairies. So far, only 15 have anaerobic digesters installed. Five are in SMUD territory, Tiangco said. Sacramento County has about 30 licensed dairy farms.

Powered by cow waste, the anaerobic digester will generate up to 225 kilowatts of electricity, enough to serve about 125 homes. The primary obstacle to more installations of anaerobic digesters is the capital cost to set them up, he said. In Sacramento, the municipal utility applies for grants for farmers in its territory, and then helps to set up power purchase agreements to develop the projects. The effort further’s SMUD’s policy goal to develop a renewable energy portfolio. About 27 percent of the utility district’s energy supply comes from resources classified as renewable by the state.

This digester was designed and built by Redding-based Maas Energy Works Inc., which will receive revenue from the electricity generated and also sell the carbon credits it will receive for creating a local fuel source and cutting down emissions.

This new digester can be controlled from an iPhone, Tiangco said.

Depending on the availability of grant money, SMUD would like to set up a digester at another dairy this year and then another next year, Tiangco said.

An average dairy cow produces six gallons of milk a day and about 140 pounds of waste. About 45 percent of the state’s methane emissions come from dairies, which statewide have a total of 1.4 million milking cows.

Some Dairies Close While They Still Have Equity

David Castellon: Visalia Times-Delta
April 20, 2016

Jack Mendonsa paid a bargain price for the 88 head of dairy cows he bought Tuesday at the Martin Dairy.

But the Delano dairyman wasn’t feeling good about the windfall, because he was among about 40 dairy operators here attending a “complete dispersal” auction of the dairy, in which the the owners sold off all 750 head of cattle in their operation.

Manuel Martin started the dairy back in 1946, “from nothing,” family members said.

While they would like to carry on his legacy, the aging siblings who own the dairy have no younger relatives interested in taking over the family business.

But their decision to walk away from operating a dairy and to sell off their cattle was less about family issues and more on the state of the dairy industry here and across California, where dairies get some of the lowest prices in the country for their milk.

In fact, dairy operators here and across the country have been dealing with depressed prices since 2009, with their only respite being a jump in prices per hundred weight — 100 pounds of milk — that lasted only a few months in 2014.

Since then, prices have dropped, staying well below what it costs to produce milk.

As a result, in the past decade, about 600 California dairies have shut down — 32 just last year — and some in the industry say a lot more could shutter this year, as 2016 is shaping up to be one of the worst financially for dairies.

Mendonsa, whose herd currently numbers about 3,000 cows, said he has been to about 15 to 20 dairy auctions in the past 90 days, and based on how the local industry is doing, “We’ll still probably see another 15 or 20 of these sales — maybe 30” this year in the Valley alone.

Certainly none of this is new, considering dairy operators have been operating in the red for years, as the prices paid for their milk has mostly come short of production costs.

Currently, the price paid for California milk — set each month by the state’s Secretary of Agriculture — is about $13 per hundred weight. The average cost to produce that amount of milk is $19.74, according to the California Dairy Campaign.

Dairy operators contacted at the Tipton dairy auction reported their production costs average about $2 less than the Campaign’s average. But the difference still deals owners a major financial blow.

“It’s terrible, people running out of money to pay bills, vendors and stuff,” Mendonsa said.

While many dairies have gotten loans and credit to stay afloat, banks are less inclined to do that these days with the industry’s ongoing pricing problems.

“The banks, they’ve got no mercy. They’re not going to put bad money after bad money,” said Joe Machado, who operates an 1,100-head dairy near Hanford.

Dairy operators who leased their land and weren’t in good financial shape were the first to fold, often because their banks foreclosed on them.

But that has changed, as a growing number of dairies shutting down this year aren’t being forced to, but rather “It’s people who are tired of losing money,” Machado said.

“I’ve seen a lot of friends and family members [quit],” he said. “I’ve seen them forced, and I’ve seen them voluntarily go.”

That was the case for Christine Foreman and her six brothers who own Martin Dairy.

“It’s been a long time,” she said of the events that prompted the family to close, even though they probably could have gone another couple of years.

But they didn’t want to drain off so much equity in their land that they had nothing left, and their cattle still fetched decent prices, said her husband, Kent Foreman, who has helped run the dairy.

“Seventy years, it’s a long time. It’s like seeing your life going away,” Christine Foreman said, adding that “There’s no way we can keep it going.”

For some, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel for milk pricing, Kent Foreman said. “In this case, somebody took the light out, they took the fixture and boarded the tunnel up.”

And it’s not just the milk pricing at issue here, he said, noting the increasing number of burdensome and costly regulations being placed on California dairies, “and the dairymen whose making nothing has to pay for them.”

On top of that, California is usually at or near the bottom of what dairies are paid for their milk among the major milk-producing states, and the state’s new law to raise minimum wage to $15 an hours in a few years also makes now a good time to get out of the dairy business here, Foreman said.

Then there are prices for agricultural land, which currently are high — despite some predictions of prices for ag land softening — prompting some dairy operators to sell their land while they still have equity or convert it to farm land, said Eddie Mendes, who milks about 2,000 cows on his Lemoore dairy.

He noted that a bank is far more likely to give a loan to start a nut farm than to give a loan to start a dairy.

“We figure you’re going to see more dairies shut down this year — especially what I call ‘Small mom-and-pop dairies” like this one,” Kent Foreman said, adding that the Martin Dairy already has been leased to become a heifer ranch, where calves from other dairies are raised until they’re old enough to be impregnated and bear calves of their own, so they become milk producers.

Lynne McBride, executive director of the California Dairy Campaign, said that she sees 2016 as a potential tipping point for the estimated 1,400 dairies still operating in the state, as many owners could decide they’re done with the business or just done with California and move with their cows to states with better milk pricing and less onerous regulations.

“Our dairy producer members continue to question their future in California,” she testified last week during a hearing in Sacramento on milk pricing organized by state Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross.


An auction was held Tuesday for 750 head of cows. The family that owns the dairy opted to get out of the business. (Photo: David Castellon)

Dairy operators have been working in recent years to get California on the federal milk order, in which the federal government sets prices paid for milk, which are higher in most other states.

But on average, the federal price overall has been only $1 more than California’s price, so dairies here still would operate the red if those prices were to convert today.

Still, dairy operators here will take whatever they can get until the prices improve enough that they can be profitable again.

And things could be worse, said some of the dairymen at Tuesday’s auction, noting that feed prices, which skyrocketed in recent years, actually have declined his year — enough to give some dairies enough breathing room to keep their operations afloat at least a little while longer.

As for whether any financial relief is on the horizon for California dairies, the operators here said they saw few positive signs, unless oversees exports of dry milk products increase significantly, and part of that would involve Russia ending its ban on American agricultural goods.

In the meantime, “I you look at supply and demand, it looks like it’s going to be bad through the end of this year,” Mendonsa said of milk pricing.

And while some experts have predicted better prices next year, he warned, “You have to remember, it’s a prediction.”

Sunkist Weathers Slowdown in Citrus Exports

John Lindt: The Sun Gazette
March 9, 2016

sub-Bus-SunKistCitrus farmers, including Sunkist members, had a phenomenal year in 2014. So it is not a big surprise that 2015 did not repeat as was reported by Sunkist Growers in its annual report released in recent days. The cooperative held its annual meeting Feb. 17 in Valencia, announcing its sixth straight billion dollar year despite a drop in citrus sales.

Total revenues reached $1.15 billion in 2015 after a record $1.23 billion in 2014. The big hit was in export sales that declined to $242 million from $305 million the year before, about a 20% drop-off. Domestic sales fell to $712 million from $739 million in 2014.

A closer look at the numbers show domestic carton sales of navels were up 11% while prices dropped 15%. On the export front navel carton volume was down 11% and free-on-boards (FOBs) also declined 13%.

Sunkist farmers received an average of $20.47 per carton of navels on exports in 2014. But that dropped to $17.78 FOB in 2015. Domestic FOBs were $15.64 in 2015—the reason why exports are so attractive.

Sales of cartons of valencias fell 23% in 2015 while tangerine carton sales were up 4%, but FOBs declined 14%.

A big drop in exports in 2015 was the result of compounding negative factors including the port strike in early 2015 followed by a ban by China impacting all citrus shipments from Tulare County that lasted for six months due to brown fungus in some shipments.

Tulare County accounts for about half of all citrus exports in the state and is the home to many top Sunkist growers and leaders.

Despite the tougher times, there was some good news to report. For the first time in Sunkist’s history, the organization has issued grower payments of over a billion dollars for the second consecutive year.

“Sunkist has made many advancements to keep the cooperative well-positioned in the current business environment and last year’s results demonstrate the positive impact of those improvements,” Sunkist president and chief executive officer Russell Hanlin said in a statement.

Sunkist’s juice processing joint venture with Ventura Coastal (in Tipton) has yielded positive results for the organization. Now in its fourth year, the business partnership continues to generate improved by-product earnings, more timely payments and greatly contributes to grower distributions. Sunkist’s robust licensing program and global sourcing business is also advancing. With 49 licensees in total, the Sunkist brand is used to market approximately 700 products in 77 countries.

Looking ahead, Sunkist’s report says “No season is without its challenges, and the enduring drought, anticipated storms from the upcoming El Niño, and serious pest and disease risks are formidable threats to our industry in this upcoming year and beyond. In coordination with government and industry groups, Sunkist’s board and management remain dedicated to finding solutions to overcome these issues and continue our legacy as the leading brand for California and Arizona fresh citrus.”

Gerald Denni, general manager of Golden Valley Citrus Inc. in Strathmore, Calif., and co-owner of Mittman-Denni Citrus Management, was elected to his first term as chairman following the meeting.

“We are excited about the fact we have eight new members on the board—younger growers who are taking a leading role,” Denni says.

Asked about co-ops growing acreage of organic citrus, Denni notes growing navel oranges organically is not an easy task. “Sunkist was one of the first to grow organic oranges,” he says, adding that organic citrus is now found in a wide number of supermarkets, “not just at Whole Foods.” Denni’s Strathmore ranch has 750 acres of organic citrus.

Another significant event for the cooperative was Sunkist’s headquarters relocation to Valencia, Calif., in 2014, which strengthened Sunkist’s financial position and also geographically centralized its business operations to the cooperative’s grower base.


Elk Grove School District Imported Peaches from China

Loretta Kalb: The Sacramento Bee
December 19, 2015

nDIlR.So.4The Elk Grove Unified School District served students hundreds of cases of canned peaches from China in recent months, the second district in the Sacramento region to do so despite a federal guideline that asks U.S. schools to serve domestically grown foods.

Michelle Drake, director of food and nutrition services for Elk Grove Unified, said Wednesday that the district relies heavily on California grown fresh fruit and produce. She said the district purchased 336 cases of diced peaches from China to serve students fruit parfait.

The peaches cost the district $25.38 per case, Drake said. Each California-grown case, by comparison, would have cost $7.63 more.

“When we get our bids … we look at all the specifications. The (National School Lunch) Act states preference will be given to locally grown (foods) to the maximum extent possible,” Drake said. “Price is something that we have to look at sometimes. On occasion, we have to make a choice.

“We do work very hard to give preference to local and domestic products. It is very important to us that our children get the freshest, best product.”

The Buy American Provision of the School Lunch Program allows districts to exercise judgment when costs for the domestic foods are significantly higher than the imported.

But there is no measure of “significant,” said Rich Hudgins, chief executive officer of the California Canning Peach Association in Sacramento. “Today that is self-defined,” he said. “Significant is whatever you want significant to be.”

Last week’s disclosure by the Elk Grove district, the region’s largest with an estimated 63,000 students, came after The Sacramento Bee filed a Public Records Act request to a half-dozen districts in the Sacramento region about the sources of canned and fresh produce purchased for the current school year. The documents provided by five other districts showed no apparent purchases of foods from China that are also domestically available; officials from two of those districts said in a follow-up interview and email they do not import food from China.

The Bee filed the requests after the Sacramento City Unified School District last month acknowledged it bought 3,900 cases of canned peaches from China this year for about $110,000, a savings of nearly $43,000 over the California supply. It also bought canned pears and applesauce from China, saving another $17,000. The district has promoted its efforts as a leader in the regional farm-to-fork movement, which emphasizes use of local produce and meat.

District spokesman Gabe Ross said last month the purchase was a “mistake” and that the district halted future deliveries of canned foods from China.

There are no restrictions on purchasing foreign fruits when there are no domestic producers. Fresh pineapple is available and is grown in Hawaii, for example. And mandarin oranges are grown and available fresh in California. But there is no domestic canning industry that processes them, said Hudgins.

The Northern California vendor that supplied Elk Grove Unified said pricing plays a role in districts’ purchasing decisions.

Peaches from California can cost $10 to $15 more per case than the fruit from China, said Whick Smock, controller and purchasing supervisor for Danielsen Co. in Chico, which supplied the Chinese peaches to Elk Grove in August.

“Most schools are concerned with the cost of their goods,” Smock said. But, he said it’s “getting more and more common for schools to request only domestic products.”

Smock said he believes the drought has had an effect on the domestic industry. California peach prices jumped and both acreage and yield declined in 2014 due largely to the drought, according to the USDA.

But Hudgins said while peach prices rose, due in part to higher labor costs, yield rebounded in 2015 and was above average.

Hudgins’ California Canning Peach Association and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, whose district includes 40 percent of California peach growers, have remained strongly critical of decisions to import peaches.

I would expect the taxpayers of Elk Grove to be unhappy that their money wound up in China rather than the Sacramento region.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove

“I would expect the taxpayers of Elk Grove to be unhappy that their money wound up in China rather than the Sacramento region,” Garamendi said Thursday. “The reality is that it’s really the school boards and what policies they want to lay down. It’s a question for the Elk Grove district’s board of directors. What is your policy? Are you willing to spend more to buy local or are you going to buy the cheapest you can find from some part of the world?”

He said about six weeks ago he talked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “and they were embarrassed and motivated to monitor (school districts) more closely.” The embarrassment, he said, was “because they’ve not been watching these contracts and they’ve not been holding school districts accountable. They are just very loose with enforcement.”

He said the The Bee’s story about Sacramento City Unified purchases from China “rang the alarm bells.”

Bobbie Singh-Allen, Elk Grove Unified’s school board president, said in an email that the district has adhered to Buy America requirements. She said the district supports “wellness for a healthy body, healthy mind and healthy learning,” and emphasizes California-grown foods. So far this academic year, the district has purchased 3,052 cases of fresh, locally grown peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots, Singh-Allen said.

Price is something that we have to look at sometimes. On occasion, we have to make a choice.

Michelle Drake, director of food and nutrition services, Elk Grove Unified School District

In a Dec. 7 letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, nearly 50 agriculture organizations, including the American and California Farm Bureau federations, the California Canning Peach Association and the California Pear Growers, complained there is “no transparency regarding school purchases of imported products.”

State Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Manteca, recently urged state schools chief Tom Torlakson to begin identifying school districts that import foods.

“I appreciate that Sacramento City Unified School District has halted future fruit purchases from China,” Galgiani wrote in a Dec. 1 letter. “However, I am concerned that other school districts may be purchasing imported agricultural products that are locally grown in California.”

Hudgins said he thinks a “chain of events has been set in motion.”

“We are going to make progress on this issue,” Hudgins said. “It’s a question of how quickly the wheels turn.”

Imported foods are subject to FDA inspection at U.S. ports of entry and are supposed to meet the same standards as food produced in the U.S., Linda Harris, a food safety microbiologist at UC Davis, said last month. Bob Bauer, president of the Association of Food Industries, the nation’s largest representative of food importers, said in November that the FDA can halt imports if it detects a problem through a spot check.

Not all schools queried by The Bee tout formal policies emphasizing local produce purchases. Elk Grove Unified previously recited the National School Lunch Act provisions in its bid instructions but did not do so under the current year contract. Drake said the district has restored the language for future contracts.

Several districts touted long-standing practices of buying only local or domestic produce when possible. One frequent exception is bananas, which are not available domestically.

“It’s been really more of a practice by our food services department, which tries to serve the freshest, highest quality produce possible,” said Daniel Thigpen, spokesman for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District; he said he’s not aware of a formal policy that dictates buying fruits and vegetables that are locally grown.

Monique Stovall, director of nutrition services for the San Juan Unified School District, said she doesn’t know of any canned goods purchases from China.

“One thing important to us is consistency in a product,” Stovall said. “If we start out using a product and we find students like it, and it’s good quality, then we stick with it. I’ve not used products from China, so I’m not saying they’re poor quality. But when we find something that works, we stick with it.”

The Roseville City School District buys only USDA produce, said Food and Nutrition Services Director Rene Yamashiro in an email.

Dominic Machi, director of Student Nutrition Services at Davis Joint Unified School District, said the district buys no canned fruits from China. He recited a litany of California fresh food sources. Among them, strawberries from Watsonville, broccoli from the Salinas Valley and fruit from a growers’ cooperative in Lodi. He said school parcel taxes aid his department’s efforts to achieve student nutrition through local produce and scratch cooking.

California Dairies Etches Bold Vision in Crystal Globe

Mark O’Keefe: Dairy Herd Management
October 15, 2015

Pictured from left, CDI Chairman John Azevedo, Dairy Foods Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jim Carper, and CDI President and Chief Executive Officer Andrei Mikhalevsky

Pictured from left, CDI Chairman John Azevedo, Dairy Foods Magazine Editor-in-Chief Jim Carper, and CDI President and Chief Executive Officer Andrei Mikhalevsky

In 2013, California Dairies, Inc. gathered more than 100 mid-to-upper level employees to unveil a revamped strategic plan just approved by the CDI Board of Directors. To commemorate the event, employees were given a curiously heavy, cardboard gift box. They opened it to find a crystal globe, wrapped in black satin.

CDI President and Chief Executive Officer Andrei Mikhalevsky joked, “I don’t want anyone coming to me in the future saying you can’t predict pricing in international markets—because you now have a crystal ball.”

That got a chuckle. But the keepsake globes, measuring 4 x 4 inches and weighing 3.5 pounds, sent a serious message: California’s largest dairy processor was staking much of its future on exports.

Today, at the USDEC Annual Board of Directors and Membership Meeting in Chicago, CDI was publicly honored as the Dairy Foods magazine 2015 Tom Camerlo Exporter of the Year. Sponsored by the U.S. Dairy Export Council, the award recognizes companies that demonstrate leadership in driving global dairy demand and U.S. dairy exports. The award is named after the late Tom Camerlo, who, among other industry leadership positions, served multiple terms as chairman of the U.S. Dairy Export Council’s board of directors.

“This validates CDI’s vision to become the leading source of nutrition for a healthy world,” CDI chairman John Azevedo told USDEC members after Dairy Foods editor Jim Carper presented the award.

“This recognition would not be possible without the foresight of the CDI board of directors and the wisdom of CDI member-owners to invest in their cooperative.”

A turning point was that day in 2013 when the strategic plan was unveiled with the keepsake crystal globes. Etched in the globes between California and New Zealand, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, was the company’s new vision statement—to become “The Leading Source of Dairy Nutrition for a Healthy World.”

Not a leading source, but the leading source.

CDI has not fulfilled its ambitious global vision yet. But working closely with marketing arm DairyAmerica, it has come a long way. This video created by Dairy Foods tells the story:

USDEC President Tom Suber said the global strategic plan “is quickly establishing CDI as a go-to supplier for dairy buyers around the world.”

On behalf of its 435 dairies, the co-operative’s export accomplishments include:

  • Shipping to nearly 50 countries
  • Accounting for an estimated one-third of all U.S. milk powder exports and 10 percent of U.S. butter exports
  • Investing tens of millions of dollars in processes, equipment and training to develop product specifications that meet the exacting requirements of importers worldwide
  • Expanding its product lines to capture overseas market opportunities
  • Building a just-completed evaporator at its Visalia plant
  • Playing a key role in the establishment and success of marketing cooperative DairyAmerica, which handles all of CDI’s overseas milk powder sales
  • Maintaining dedicated capacity strictly for manufacturing export products, ensuring consistent supply for customers who require product year-round
  • Cultivating long-term relationships through regular visits to customer facilities across the globe and hosting overseas visitors at its six California processing sites
  • Committing to sustainability with comprehensive greenhouse gas and water reduction

When the CDI Board of Directors named Mikhalevsky president and CEO in 2012, it got an ambitious international businessman who racks up frequent-flyer miles with a last name on his U.S. passport that some find difficult to pronounce.

The grandson of Russian immigrants, Mikhalevsky tries to make it easy by instructing people to go with this phrase: “Make-a-LEFT-ski.” Though not phonetically precise, Mikhalevsky says “it’s close enough.”

When he came to CDI, Mikhalevsky brought more than 35 years of international business experience, having lived in more than 20 cities around the world. His resume included five years as the managing director of global ingredients and food services at Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd., the world’s largest dairy exporter, where he was responsible for building Fonterra’s global customer partnerships.

The only continent he hasn’t done business in is Antarctica.

“Those experiences opened his eyes to what’s out there in the world,” said Eric Erba, CDI’s senior vice president and chief strategy officer. “Most people don’t see the world like he does. They see the world as what’s local to them, through a prism of what they do on a regular basis. Most people are very provincial. Andrei didn’t come from that mold.”

One of Mikhalevsky’s first major tasks was to update the CDI strategic plan. In addition to the global vision statement, it included an updated mission statement, to “profitably market, process and add value to members’ milk.”

Erba was there when the plan was presented to the CDI board.

“It was so much more about where we could go, rather than where we were,” said Erba. “I don’t think board members envisioned their cooperative being such an international player. I think they were excited, enthusiastic and amazed —all good adjectives.”

But executing the plan would require a not-so-easy culture shift of the entire organization. That’s one reason the organization gathered so many middle managers when the strategic plan was released.

While most employees at CDI’s six plants were energized, some might be described by other adjectives, such as skeptical, wary and reluctant. “If you have been here for 20, 25 years, this new mindset can be difficult,” is the way Erba diplomatically put it. “Before Andrei arrived, I don’t think employees saw CDI as anything more than a large cooperative in California.”

Like a good real estate agent, Mikhalevsky sees three major advantages of being in California: location, location, location.

“We are perfectly positioned, being in California, to take advantage of Asia and international markets,” said Mikhalevsky. “We have a 30 percent freight savings shipping to Asia versus shipping to Chicago. If it costs 10 cents per pound to send it to Chicago we can get it to Beijing for 7 cents per pound.”

Plants are located close to the major shipping ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland. After clearing testing, a CDI product can be loaded on a ship the next day.

Like all U.S. dairy exporters, CDI has had to weather a challenging year of volatility in global markets. Prior to 2015, annual U.S. dairy exports set new records for five consecutive years, increasing U.S. sales to more than $7 billion in 2014. If CDI would have strayed from its commitment to continue exporting, particularly powder, at competitive prices, the downturn would have been worse—not just for CDI, but total U.S. exports. In the first seven months of 2015, exports were equivalent to 14.4 percent of U.S. milk production on a total milk solids basis, down only slightly from 2013-14, when 15.4 percent of production was exported, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

“We all know the markets are bad right now, but you can’t jump in and out of exports whenever it suits you,” said Dennis Bettencourt, who oversees CDI’s six plants as vice president of manufacturing. “We have key customers we need to be there for every day or they will go with someone else. You have to be there when it’s bad or they’re not going to be there when it’s good.”

Along with three other co-operatives—Agri-Mark, Inc., O-AT-KA Milk Producers and United Dairymen of Arizona—CDI is a shareholder in DairyAmerica, which markets milk powders internationally, as well as in the United States.

“The arrangement works well,” said Bettencourt. “DairyAmerica interfaces with the buyer and the warehouse people. They handle all of the supply chain and logistics, documentation and translation. They get us into the plant to interface with the technical people, so we can focus on the production side and innovation.”

Bettencourt said CDI visits major global customers once or twice a year to assess how they are testing, storing, using and transporting CDI products.

“You can’t just pick up the phone like you can sometimes in the U.S. to resolve something,” said Bettencourt. “You need to go see it to understand it. Sometimes the specifications say one thing, but there are variations according to various markets. When that happens, we don’t expect our customers to change. We try to adapt and change.

“That adaptability is part of the culture shift. It’s still a work-in-progress.”

Among the six plants, Tipton and Visalia focus most on export products. Tipton is one of the largest plants in the nation with capabilities that include powdered milk, butter and production of a variety of condensed products. The Visalia plant is equipped with the largest single evaporator-dryer in North America.

To fulfill the mission statement’s mandate to “profitably market, process and add value to members’ milk,” CDI is creating more value-added export products. In three years, it has nearly doubled its product portfolio, and is investing for more expansion.

CDI added anhydrous milkfat in 2012, cream cheese in 2014 and milk protein concentrate and isolate this year. The addition of a third evaporator at the Visalia plant moves CDI’s export powder portfolio up the value chain and into higher-specification powders. The new evaporator produces low-spore NFDM and SMP, in addition to high-heat, heat-stable and low-spore milk powders for UHT applications.

“Innovation and new product expansion are driving this mission,” said Mikhalevsky.

Exports have become so important to CDI “we can’t exist without it,” said Mikhalevsky. He credited USDEC for ongoing assistance.

“We have to have an advocate and USDEC is on top of all the issues,” said Mikhalevsky. “I think we leverage and use USDEC as much as anyone because we see USDEC as an extraordinarily beneficial asset to move our business forward.”

Those globes are proudly displayed on bookshelves and desks throughout the company. Intended to be aspirational, the crystal keepsakes appear almost magical when illuminated by a California sunbeam streaming through an office window.

“Employees love them,” said Erba. “They’re akin to a very large paperweight that gives you a perspective of where the company is going, and that’s very much in a global direction. For many employees, including me, that globe represents a new and fresh perspective of what CDI can be.”

Past Exporter of the Year winners:

  • 2014 Dairy Farmers of America
  • 2013 Agri-Mark
  • 2012 Glanbia USA
  • 2011 Leprino Foods
  • 2010 United Dairymen of Arizona
  • 2009 Hilmar Cheese Company and Hilmar Ingredients
  • 2008 Schreiber Foods
  • 2007 Darigold
  • 2006 Davisco Foods International

USDA Grants Aid Apricots, Bees, and Other North Valley Ventures

John Holland: Modesto Bee
October 6, 2015

One federal grant announced this week will pay for health research on canned and frozen apricots, grown mainly in Stanislaus County.

Another grant will use cooking classes to get kids involved in the Modesto Certified Farmers Market. Still others will bring beekeeping to a school farm in Manteca and help a Ballico-area company promote local food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded $148 million nationwide in the latest round of grants from five programs. Some of them will aid major crops in the San Joaquin Valley through research on water, pests, fertilizers, marketing and other needs. Others have a more specific focus, such as nutrition for the region’s Hmong community.

Apricot Producers of California, based in Turlock, aims to reverse declining demand with $346,339 from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. It will pay for research at UC Davis on how canned and frozen fruit compares with fresh when it comes to vitamins and other nutrients.

“What we suspect will happen, based on what we’ve seen in other fruits, is that it’s actually higher once it’s canned or frozen,” President Bill Ferreira said Tuesday.

He was referring mainly to past research on peaches. Processors note that the fruit is picked right at maturity, unlike much of the fresh-market crop, and the processing seals in nutrients.

The state’s apricot production peaked at 324,000 tons in 1944 but was just 53,000 tons this year, according to the USDA. Growers face not just reduced demand, but the high cost of hand labor. Much of the acreage has converted to almonds and walnuts, which are harvested by machine.

The Patterson area remains the nation’s top apricot producer. Most of the canning is done at Del Monte and Seneca in Modesto and Pacific Coast Producers in Lodi. Some of the freezing is done at the Dole plant in Atwater, but most is done by another company in Watsonville.

Ferreira said this year’s crop was low also because of the drought and a shortage of the “chilling hours” in winter that get the trees ready for bloom. On the bright side, canners agreed to pay growers a record $550 per ton, plus a $150-per-ton surcharge to help with labor costs.

CDI Completes Visalia Plant Expansion

Press Release: Business Wire
September 16, 2015

California Dairies, Inc. (CDI), the largest dairy processing cooperative in California, is pleased to announce it has commissioned a new evaporator at its Visalia, California plant. The addition of a third evaporator at the Visalia plant moves CDI’s export powder portfolio up the value chain in to higher specification powders.

“Striving to be a global market leader that produces the value-added and specialty dairy products the world prefers, CDI has positioned itself so that its assets and its capabilities align to produce the products the world market demands”

The additional evaporator provides CDI the ability to produce low-spore nonfat dry milk and skim milk powder, in addition to high heat, heat stable and low-spore milk powders for UHT application. The expansion and enhancement of its assets and product offerings not only enables CDI to meet its customer needs for value-added milk powders, but also increases CDI presence in the global marketplace.

“Striving to be a global market leader that produces the value-added and specialty dairy products the world prefers, CDI has positioned itself so that its assets and its capabilities align to produce the products the world market demands,” said Andrei Mikhalevsky, president and CEO.

About California Dairies, Inc.

California Dairies, Inc. is the largest member-owned milk marketing and processing cooperative in California producing 43 percent of California’s milk. Co-owned by more than 410 dairy producers who ship 18 billion pounds of Real California Milk annually, California Dairies, Inc. is a manufacturer of quality butter, fluid milk products and milk powders. In addition, California Dairies, Inc. is the home of two leading and well-respected brands of butter – Challenge and Danish Creamery. California Dairies’ quality dairy products are available in all 50 United States and in more than 50 foreign countries.

Drought Stress Weighs on Almond Crop

Reed Fujii: RecordNet
August 27, 2015

California’s annual almond harvest is running at full throttle, and area growers are busy collecting the crunchy brown nuts that comprise San Joaquin County’s No. 2 cash crop behind only wine grapes.

While generally good growing conditions were reported for this season, initial indications are yields are down from previous years.

Phil Brumley, an Escalon almond grower, said some of his more mature orchards are showing signs of water stress.

“It appears the crop is a little bit lighter than the last couple of years,” he said.

Brumley said deep-soil moisture, below the five-foot depth his irrigation provides, is lacking after years of drought. And mineral salts are also building up.

Dave Phippen, a principal of Travaille & Phippen in Manteca, sifts a handful of processed almonds Thursday. Phippen said the statewide almond harvest will likely be short of the 1.8 billion pounds forecast earlier this summer. Photo Courtesy of RecordNet

Dave Phippen, a principal of Travaille & Phippen in Manteca, sifts a handful of processed almonds Thursday. Phippen said the statewide almond harvest will likely be short of the 1.8 billion pounds forecast earlier this summer. (Photo courtesy: RecordNet)

“I really think that’s affecting the trees,” he said. “We have not had enough, in the last 4 years, winter rains to flush out the top soil, basically, to push some of the salts back down.”

Dave Phippen, a principal of Travaille & Phippen in Manteca, counts himself lucky.

With a modest water cutback from the water district serving his orchards and well water to make up the difference, he said, “Our trees don’t know there’s a drought.”

Still, his yields from the nonpareil variety — now being harvested and which accounts for 35 to 40 percent of all California’s almond crop — may be down 15 percent from a year ago.

“My crop, my trees are off,” he said.

Based on that and reports from other areas in the state, Phippen said the statewide harvest will likely be short of the 1.8 billion pounds forecast July 1 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and well off from the more than 2 billion pounds collected in both 2011 and 2013.

Mel Machado, director of grower relations for Blue Diamond Growers, said the drought is having a more severe impact on almond growers in the southern San Joaquin Valley than in the north. But even in the north, in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, he said, “This thing is down more than it should be.”

Late-maturing almond varieties could help make up the shortfall in nonpareil yields, but that is yet to be seen.

“We don’t have enough (information) to chew on,” Machado said.

The market for California almonds, which account for about 80 percent of the world supply, is expected to remain strong.

Global demand exceeds even the 1.8 billion pound forecast, Machado said.

“The 1.8 (billion pounds) is a low crop. We need a lot more than that,” he said.

Reports of a slowdown in the Chinese economy and the recent devaluation of China’s currency, making U.S. products more expensive there, were not seen as major factors.

“We all wondered about China,” Phippen said. “My sense is the demand that was there is still there.”

Currently, both sellers and buyers seem to have stepped back from the market, waiting to see what the current harvest may produce.

But Phippen, whose company grows, processes and wholesales almonds for itself and other growers, noted that prices coming into the new crop were at record high levels.

“I don’t think the California sellers are going to be anxious to sell for a lower price than we had at the end of the ’14 crop,” he said.

Latest Trends Reshaping California Wine Grape Industry

Dennis Pollock: Western Farm Press
July 10, 2015

Those gathered for the 64th annual Allied Grape Growers (AGG) annual meeting July 7 in Fresno, Calif. received a sobering look at the likelihood that still more vines will need to come out in the southern San Joaquin Valley (SJV).

In addition, growers heard which varieties were hot and which were on the outs, about the changing demand demographically, and an overall decline in the demand for the bulk of wines out of the region – wines priced at under $10.

Attendees at the Allied Grape Grower annual meeting in Fresno include from left: Californians Michael Ming, Alliance Appraisal; Nat DiBuduo, Allied President-CEO; Greg Archer, Alliance Ag Services; and grape grower Mathew Andrew, Allied Board Chairman. (Photo courtesy: Western Farm Press)

Attendees at the Allied Grape Grower annual meeting in Fresno include from left: Californians Michael Ming, Alliance Appraisal; Nat DiBuduo, Allied President-CEO; Greg Archer, Alliance Ag Services; and grape grower Mathew Andrew, Allied Board Chairman. (Photo courtesy: Western Farm Press)

AGG President and Chief Executive Officer Nat DiBuduo unveiled what could become a raisin program for its growers. DiBuduo said the cooperative, which represents more than 500 growers from Kern County to Lake County, this year bought raisin crop insurance for the first time.

DiBuduo said that no price has yet been set for green Thompson Seedless grapes, a raisin variety that is also used in concentrate, alcohol, and dry white wine. He said during his tenure with Allied that he has seen prices grow from $65 to $320 a ton for Thompson Seedless.

But he is frustrated that this year dehydrators are offering to buy grapes at under $200 a ton.

“That’s a tragedy,” he said, urging growers not to sell at that price.

Raisin crop insurance 

DiBuduo urged growers to buy raisin crop insurance before the July 31 deadline and to buy raisin paper “just in case, while we do everything possible to market grapes.

“We did not tell you to make raisins, but we did say, ‘Get prepared.’”

Many Thompson Seedless growers have pulled out vines or are selling their vineyards, DiBuduo says. He estimates about 10,000 acres have been pulled since last year’s harvest.

Varietals – What’s hot and not

There is interest in Rubired, Pinot Grigio, and “believe it or not” organic Thompson Seedless.

“These are the only varieties of wine grapes that growers are not pulling out,” DiBuduo said.

He adds that wineries are not buying SJV grapes at this time, “and if they are talking, it’s not at prices that are sustainable for growers to continue farming wine grapes.

“Today, we are seeing contracts expire and not being renewed.”

Bright future for North Coast grapes

At the same time, DiBuduo says the demand for North Coast wine grapes has strengthened in prices and tonnage needed.

“Overall, this is one of those years the North Coast membership is carrying its weight and helping stabilize the coop for prices and demand in the San Joaquin Valley,” said the Allied leader.

Among the Valley’s challenged wines is Old Vine Muscat, often hand-harvested.

“We do not see wineries wanting to handle hand harvested grapes due to unpredictable labor and not at sustainable prices,” DiBuduo said.

The result was many growers have pulled out their vineyards.

The same thing happened with Grenache and Carignane after many wineries did not renew contracts.

DiBuduo said there were also “lackluster indications” for Ruby Cabernet, Syrah, Barbera, and French Colombard.

He believes up to 35,000 acres of grapes will be removed in 2015, two thirds of the acreage in wine grapes.

Certified Sustainable gains traction

DiBuduo says “sustainability” is a buzzword gaining fast traction among winery marketers. Sonoma and Napa counties have declared intentions to become 100 percent “Certified Sustainable.

He added, “I believe that all Allied Grape Grower members should be proactive in the sustainability arena and would like to ask each of you to become engaged in the process.”

In addition, AGG is applying for a grant to hire a person “to help our growers navigate the process.

“With this help, I hope that someday soon we can (cite) the value-added advantage of buying grapes from Allied in their sustainability program,” DiBuduo said.

But he cautioned wineries, “There’s no free lunch. We need to get the added costs recouped. We expect a bonus from wineries.”

Declining demand – under $10 wine

Vern Crowder, Rabobank’s senior vice president and senior analyst for the Food and Agriculture Advisory Group, delivered the keynote address.

He echoed DiBuduo’s words about declining demand for wines under $10 and the likelihood of still more vine removals in the region. Crowder cited a decline in the consumption of wine by Baby Boomers while at the same time the demand is up among Millennials – those born roughly in the mid-1980s to the early 2000s.

Millennials pour cash for high-tier wine

“Boomers are drinking less and saving their money for retirement,” he said.

An improving economy has put many Millennials in a position to purchase wines at higher prices. Millennials now represent a larger chunk of the nation’s population than Boomers.

Crowder expects growth in “upper tier” wine purchases to remain strong. He expects California could see record yields from wine grapes by 2017 as considerable acreage comes into production in the Lodi-Sacramento area.

“There is a mismatch in the San Joaquin Valley with a demand decline as the supply is going up.”

Crowder says about 57,000 of acres of vineyards have been added to the region since 2012 and should enter commercial production by 2017.

Asked about the impact of the drought on wine grapes, Crowder said it appears not as severe as for some other crops, including tree fruit.

He says it could be problematic, however, if supplemental water purchased in anticipation of the continuing drought cannot be delivered as expected.

Genetic Engineering Can Decrease Crops’ Water Needs

Opinion Letters: Wall Street Journal
June 26, 2015

How Thirsty Crops Soak Up California’s Water” (U.S. News, June 20) proves that California’s almond production isn’t the devil it is being made out to be. I’d like to add something.

Almond meats, which compose only 25% of the crop that is delivered to the huller or sheller for processing, have been demonized because of their water utilization and the quantity of the crop that is exported. However, what is mostly ignored is that there are other byproducts of the almond hulling and shelling process that are used right here in California, including the hull and the shell, which make up 65% of the overall delivered crop. Almond hulls are a form of carbohydrate and are shipped to dairies all over California to be blended into the dairy ration with hay, corn and alfalfa. The shell, which is found within the hull and contains the almond meat, is a starch and is used for bedding in mangers.

It is unfair to say that almonds export California water to other lands and aren’t a practical use of water resources. Most of the water stays right here.

Michael E. Kelley

President and CEO

Central California Almond Growers Association

Kerman, Calif.

To respond to the severe drought, we need more science-based, rational agricultural policies. Federal regulators and some localities discriminate against research and development and the cultivation of genetically engineered plants, including those that directly or indirectly conserve water. Four California counties actually prohibit the cultivation of genetically engineered plants.

Genetically engineered crops can be crafted to withstand droughts and to be irrigable with lower-quality (such as brackish) water. For example, a decade ago Egyptian researchers showed that transferring a single gene from barley to wheat allows the wheat to get by with only one-eighth as much irrigation as conventional wheat, surviving on meager rainfall alone. Similar genetic modification has created drought-tolerant corn varieties, and more crops are in the pipeline.

Genetic engineering also conserves water by allowing agricultural production in salty soils. Scientists have enhanced salt tolerance in crops as diverse as tomatoes and canola, and made them irrigable with brackish water, thus conserving fresh water for other uses. Under drought conditions, these sorts of genetic changes can mean the difference between having a harvest and crop failure.

Henry I. Miller, M.D.

Hoover Institution

Stanford, Calif.

Stanislaus Farm Supply will Join Ag Hall of Fame

John Holland: Modesto Bee
June 26, 2015

A 1949 steelworkers strike reduced supplies of baling wire to farmers in Stanislaus County. No problem. They got together and arranged for a rail car full of the product.

Thus was born Stanislaus Farm Supply, a cooperative that would get into the business of seed, fertilizer, pesticides and other things vital to a county that is among the nation’s leaders in food production.

It is this year’s inductee into the Stanislaus County Agricultural Hall of Fame, which recognizes people and businesses that have excelled in farming and related fields.

The induction will take place Nov. 12 at a Turlock dinner that raises money for the National Ag Science Center. This Modesto-based group created the Ag in Motion trailer, a mobile laboratory that teaches junior high school students about careers in farming and food processing, among other projects.

“This recognition is well-deserved given the pivotal role Stanislaus Farm Supply has had in supporting our county’s farmers and ranchers,” said Chris Lehikainen, chairman of the center’s board of directors, in a news release.

The company employs about 140 people. As a cooperative, a common business structure in U.S. agriculture, the profits go to the farmers who own it.

Stanislaus Farm Supply started at Eighth and Washington streets in Modesto, under the leadership of Joe Sousa. The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau helped with early financing and remains closely allied.

In 1960, the cooperative purchased the Sisk Warehouse on Service Road, south of Ceres, which eventually became the headquarters. It has branches in Merced and Yerington, Nev., the latter under the Silverado name.

Sam Bettencourt managed the business from 1978 to last year, when he turned over the job to Nick Biscay, president and chief executive officer.

“We are honored to be recognized by the National Ag Science Center and join some of the true giants in the history of Stanislaus County,” Biscay said.

The cooperative has long provided scholarships for ag students and purchased animals raised by 4-H and FFA members. Last year, the science center held a farm-to-table dinner on one of the fields where it does research.

“Their commitment to Stanislaus County goes far beyond the farm fields and ranchland as they have always been a leading supporter of endless community causes and needs,” Lehikainen said.

The Best-Tasting Apricot on the Planet is a Disappearing Delicacy

Tara Leonard: Santa Cruz Sentinel
June 16, 2015

When it comes to fruit, Americans are accustomed to physical perfection. We like our apples firm and shiny, our bananas smooth and golden, our apricots plump and blemish free. Far too often, though, what we gain in appearance we lose in flavor, because some of the most delicious produce simply isn’t designed for the lengthy storage and long-distance shipping that commercial production requires. Blenheim apricots fall into this category.

Blenheims are famously delicate, with a gossamer skin that spots and bruises easily, making shipping all but impossible. But close your eyes and sniff a perfectly ripe Blenheim and it’s like inhaling a sun-kissed summer day. Bite into the blushing pink skin — and do it over the kitchen sink if you don’t want to make a mess — and the juice bursts out and trickles down your arm, a sticky sweet reminder of all that we love about seasonal produce. You’ll only find these seductive gems for the next few weeks at local farm stands and farmers markets, so now is the time to enjoy them in all their perfect imperfection.


Blenheims are famously delicate, with a gossamer skin that spots and bruises easily, making shipping all but impossible. But close your eyes and sniff a perfectly ripe Blenheim and it’s like inhaling a sun-kissed summer day. (Photo courtesy: Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Blenheims are famously delicate, with a gossamer skin that spots and bruises easily, making shipping all but impossible. But close your eyes and sniff a perfectly ripe Blenheim and it’s like inhaling a sun-kissed summer day. (Photo courtesy: Santa Cruz Sentinel)

“Blenheims have a skin like Kleenex,” said Patti Gonzales of ApricotKing Orchards in Hollister, where the Gonzales family also grows walnuts, prunes, pears, and cherries. “It doesn’t take much for them to look spotty. But they taste sooooo good! On a scale of one to 10, they’re a 10. You have to get over the look because they taste fabulous.”

“There is not another apricot that tastes like a Blenheim,” agreed Tom Broz of Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, where he works about three acres of Blenheims. “They’re addicting with this amazing balance of sweet and tangy. They may not look the best, but they’re the best tasting apricot that I know.”

According to Broz, Blenheims’ royal roots can be traced back to the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and England’s Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. They are sometimes referred to as Royal Blenheims. They arrived in California in the 1880, planted in the gardens of the Spanish missions. Popular for their high sugar content and suitability for drying, Blenheims soared in popularity.

But today, according to Bill Ferriera, president of the Apricot Producers of California, Blenheims have all but disappeared as a commercial apricot in California. The 32,000 tons of Blenheims produced in 1988 dropped to 2,500 tons in 2014, representing less than 5 percent of the total apricot production. A combination of urban growth, lower priced imports and their notorious sensitivity has turned Blenheims into a disappearing delicacy.

Gonzales said that 25 years ago there were more than 50 families growing apricots in the Hollister area. Now there are only a few left. “Blenheims are one of the hardest fruits to grow,” she said. “They need about 650 hours of chilling in the 30s and 40s, and we just didn’t get that this year.”

Due to early rains and the mild winter, Gonzales — who sells her Blenheims at the Downtown Santa Cruz Farmers Market on Wednesday afternoons — expects a small and early harvest, beginning around mid-June and lasting through July 4.

“There’s like a two-week window,” Broz cautioned.

As a coastal grower, he expects his crop to come in closer to the end of June or beginning of July. “We only sell them fresh, we don’t dry any, so we warn all of our customers and then we sell out right away. We include them in our CSA, do farmers markets and sell to stores and restaurants. We also have a farm stand. Anything culled goes to jam with Happy Girl Kitchens.”

If you’re lucky enough to land a piece of this ephemeral favorite, the best way to enjoy it is straight from your hand. But first, close your eyes and smell it. “You know how with some store-bought apricots, if you were blind you wouldn’t know what they were?” Gonzales asked. “Blenheims have a sweet honey aroma. When we put them in the car and travel to market, the van smells so sweet people say they could smell us coming!”

Next, take a cautious bite because, according to Gonzales, “they’re the only fruit that you can actually pour liquid out of like a faucet!”

If you want to save some Blenheims to enjoy the rest of the year, just wash them, cut them in half and put them on a tray in the sun. Gonzales actually recommends drying them whole with the pit still in. “It gives them more of an oaky flavor,” she advised. “Slip the pit and you have a little pillow of fabulous dried apricot.” You can also freeze them by simply breaking them in half, removing the pit and placing them in airtight baggies where they should last about a year.

As for cooking, Blenheims’ high sugar content makes them a favorite for jams, sauces and salsas. Gonzalez’s favorite recipe is Mom’s Apricot Squares.

“I can’t make that one often because I just eat them!” she admitted. “My nieces always ask me to bring them and I say, ‘Oh honey I can’t, they won’t make it there in the car!’”

Blue Diamond Renovating Historic Sacramento Almond Roasting Plant

Blue Diamond Growers is renovating one of its oldest buildings at the headquarters complex at 18th and C streets in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of Mark Anderson, Sacramento Business Journal.

Blue Diamond Growers is renovating one of its oldest buildings at the headquarters complex at 18th and C streets in Sacramento. Photo courtesy of Mark Anderson, Sacramento Business Journal.

Mark Anderson: Sacramento Business Journal
June 4, 2015

Blue Diamond Growers is renovating one of its oldest buildings at the headquarters complex at 18th and C streets in Sacramento.

More than just the almond store, visitors center and headquarters, the 1.3-million-square-foot campus is an active processing plant that sprawls over 11 city blocks in midtown.

Unlike most of Sacramento’s historic food processing operations which have long since left town — including more than a dozen major canneries, Campbell Soup, the Globe Mills and the Crystal Creamery — Blue Diamond is an active food processing business.

Blue Diamond is constantly upgrading its facilities, said Alicia Rockwell, spokeswoman with Blue Diamond. “It is part of our business to continually enhance and maintain the manufacturing plant.”

The $3 million project entails upgrading the almond-roasting kitchens area to be more efficient. Upgrades will also create a new a new delivery system for feeding the almond roasters and other updates.

Two years ago, Blue Diamond spent $1.2 million just to upgrade to energy efficient lighting in Sacramento. That same year the company opened a 6,500-square-foot almond research center in Sacramento to develop new almond food products. The company didn’t disclose the cost of that building.

Blue Diamond owns and operates three of the highest volume almond processing plants in the world — this one in Sacramento as well as plants in Salida and Turlock. Several of the Sacramento main plant buildings are designated as historic structures, and are getting upgrades inside.

Almonds are California’s second most valuable agricultural product behind dairy. Last year, the state had 960,000 acres in almonds, nearly all of them in the Central Valley, which is one of the few places on earth with conditions for almond trees to thrive.

Rebranding The Wonderful Company

Dale Buss: brandchannel
June 3, 2015

Wonderful Company_rgb_lg_highresWonderful Pistachios and POM Wonderful pomegranate drinks have already grown into vibrant new brands that essentially created their better-for-you food and beverage categories. Now, their parent company, Roll Global, is applying a bit of the “Wonderful” magic to its own corporate name and brand.

So the privately held, $4-billion umbrella for a growing number of healthful products has officially changed its name to The Wonderful Company. Its other major brands and product lines include Wonderful Halos mandarin oranges, Wonderful Almonds, Fiji Water and the Teleflora flower-delivery outfit. Fiji Water is a Wonderful-owned brand that has just undergone its own packaging facelift and new marketing campaign.

The company has been growing revenues at an average of 15 percent a year lately, quadrupling in sales over the past decade and employing about 7,300 people versus just 2,500 back then.

No surprise founders Lynda and Stewart Resnick believed it was time to clean up any brand-identity confusion at the top of the company and attempt to create more synergies among its vibrant brands. brandchannel talked with Adam Cooper, vice president of insights and innovation and project leader behind the rebranding.

brandchannel: Whythis name and how will your visual identity reflect it?

Adam Cooper: Our name didn’t reflect our products. We had some equity with Wonderful, but not every consumer can make those connections. However, nearly half of US households buy a Wonderful brand of products each year. Our new logo includes the word “Wonderful” with a heart.

bc: Do consumers really care about your corporate brand (or rebrand)? Why it consistent important?

Cooper: We thought it was important for our consumers to know who we are and our retailer customers and others that we work with in the industry to unify under the Wonderful brand.

Over time as we use The Wonderful Company more, consumers will hopefully begin to connect each of these brands together and be more likely to buy our products in the future. We know there will be longer-term impact but there also is some immediate benefit from bringing our brands together: When you’re working with trade customers and partners, being from one unified brand makes a difference.

bc: What consumer insights informed the timing of this rebranding?

Cooper: It’s been a year-long process. Lynda and Stewart set the initial vision to make this come about. They felt this was the time because we’re advertising our brands more than ever, and because we’re becoming more branded in the marketplace, we wanted to make sure our company name represented that.

bc: What are the latest in product innovation across your brands?

Cooper: With POM Wonderful, we’ve relaunched our line of POM antioxidant super teas in four flavors, and they’ve been hitting the stores over the past year. With FIJI Water, in addition to the national media campaign, we added a new label and new presence in the store—new packaging that really stands out.

With Wonderful Pistachios, we are always looking at different potential new packaging options and flavor renovations. Wonderful Halos just finished their second season and they’ve become the No. 1 selling brand of mandarin oranges—their awareness is now on par with all the other brands.

And this year we launched nationally our Sweet Scarletts ruby-red Texas grapefruits—and that’s been a good strategy to reinvigorate the grapefruit category. Mandarins already are the fastest-growing citrus subcategory out there and one of fastest in all of produce. But with grapefruits, it will be a long journey in that grapefruits go up and down in terms of popularity. We’re hoping with the new brand to create more sales and awareness around grapefruits. They’re grown on Wonderful-owned land in Texas.

bc: With this rebranding out, are you also repositioning the company? What are your priorities looking ahead?

Cooper: One story we want to tell with The Wonderful Company is how we give back. We have a robust culture of philanthropy. Last year alone we donated almost $50 million in total charitable giving, and we also have invested nearly $100 million in sustainability efforts, which go a long way to help the environment.

Commentary: We must communicate the facts about water use

Mark Jansen: Ag Alert
May 27, 2015

The headlines have been unavoidable. Almonds have been painted as our state’s “thirstiest” crop, but what these stories lack is context. The management team from the Blue Diamond Growers cooperative has been collaborating with industry experts to communicate the facts about agricultural water use to the media and our urban neighbors.

According to a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News, “California’s dams and reservoirs were never envisioned to release water year-round for environmental objectives such as aiding the delta smelt or reintroducing salmon in the San Joaquin River watershed. A majority of reservoir water once intended for households or farming is simply sent out to sea.”

Clearly, our solution to California’s water situation will require a collaborative effort among all Californians to find a solution that makes sense for everyone.

The drought debate continues as we enter the hot, dry summer of the Central Valley, with mandatory water restrictions now in place throughout our state. For many Californians, that means the drought will now affect their day-to-day lives. Millions of urban Californians will have to join agriculture in the fight to save water and push for storage to protect our future. Gov. Brown’s mandate made it clear that all Californians need to do their part to conserve our most precious resource, and yet the media firestorm aimed at agriculture, and almonds specifically, has been fierce.

Almond farmers have reduced the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by one-third in the past 20 years.

Almond farmers have reduced the amount of water needed to grow a pound of almonds by one-third in the past 20 years.

Our message has been simple: All food takes water to grow.

California’s agricultural abilities are second to none. In fact, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, nearly half of our country’s fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California. And CDFA reports that from 1967 to 2010, California agriculture has increased revenue and decreased total applied water use by 20 percent.

In order to achieve such an impressive statistic, access to a consistent water supply is key. The amount of water required for California farming to grow our food is only 40 percent of captured water, with environmental projects taking the majority at 50 percent. The often-quoted 80 percent ignores any water used for environmental purposes.

I have read suggestions that agriculture has been let off the hook by the governor’s mandate. Here are the facts: In 2014, farmers received only 5 percent of their contracted State Water Project allocation and 0 percent from the federal Central Valley Project. This year, farmers are projected to receive 20 percent of State Water Project allocation and again, 0 percent of CVP water. Our farmers have been feeling the effects of this drought from the very beginning.

Some have questioned whether agriculture’s economic impact justifies the amount of water used by the industry. The media points to agriculture’s 2.8 percent share of the state GDP, but again, this figure lacks context. It does not tell the whole story. Getting our food from farm to fork involves an interconnected supply chain, undoubtedly contributing significantly more than 2.8 percent to the state’s economy. The almond industry alone contributes 104,000 jobs to California, 97,000 of which reside in the Central Valley, and more than 37,000 additional jobs throughout the supply chain.

Speaking of almonds, there are 9 million acres of farmland in California and almonds account for 12 percent of that total, while only using 8 percent of the water currently used for agriculture. Almond crops produce more than just the kernels humans eat, which provide an efficient source of a heart-healthy, plant-based protein. The almond crop also produces hulls and shells that provide feed and bedding for livestock animals. Almonds rank No. 1 in California for food exports out of the state, with North America consuming four times more almonds than any other market. Our industry is a global driver of $11 billion in economic activity for California.

In the last 20 years, California almond growers have reduced the amount of water required to grow a pound of almonds by 33 percent. Nearly 70 percent of almond growers use micro-irrigation systems and more than 80 percent use demand-based irrigation scheduling. No one in the world can produce a high-quality almond as efficiently as we can in California.

In times of crisis, there are people who look for someone to blame. Almonds were the first target. Through sharing a few facts about our water stewardship, the media tide has turned to more balanced reporting. As the weather continues to warm into the summer, I expect agriculture will continue to field questions from our urban neighbors about water. Rest assured that Blue Diamond is committed to collaborating with our industry peers, water and environmental experts, consumer groups, regulatory bodies and policy makers to establish a water policy that makes sense for all Californians—rural and urban, Central Valley and coastal, producers and consumers.

(Mark Jansen is president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers in Sacramento.)

USDA Reports 928,000 Total California Grape Acres

Ann-Marie Jeffries: Growing Produce
May 12, 2015

California’s 2014 grape acreage totaled 928,000 acres, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), California Field Office.

Of the total grape acreage, 865,000 were bearing, while 63,000 were non-bearing. The wine-type grape acreage is estimated at 615,000 acres.  Of the total acres, 565,000 were bearing and 50,000 were non-bearing.

Table-type grape acreage totaled 121,000 acres with 110,000 bearing and 11,000 non-bearing.  Acreage of raisin-type grapes totaled 192,000 acres, of which 190,000 were bearing and 2,000 were non-bearing.

However, Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers, says there are some discrepancies between the NASS numbers (which come from a voluntary survey) and its own, which come initially from the Grape Acreage Report but are then supplemented with numbers from AGG’s annual grapevine nursery survey.

The NASS estimate of 565,000 bearing acres is quite close to AGG’s recent estimate of 555,000. However, DiBuduo says there’s a relatively large discrepancy in the non-bearing acres.

“We believe there are more non-bearing acres, based on our nursery survey,” he says.

While NASS reports just 50,000 non-bearing acres, AGG estimates that number to be about 100,000 acres. Over the last three years, about 100,000 acres of vines have been sold to growers for planting, and the assumption is that those were all non-bearing acres in 2014.

The NASS report also doesn’t account for acreage removal, DiBuduo notes. As of the end of March, 30,000 acres of vines had been removed from the San Joaquin Valley, according to AGG, two-thirds of those being winegrapes.

AGG also suspects there are another few thousand acres that have been removed in the coastal regions. However, AGG is projecting about 32,000 new acres will come into production from 2012 plantings.

Overall, AGG anticipates a producing acreage base this year that is relatively unchanged from 2014.

Sources: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service and Allied Grape Growers

Almond Industry Defends Water Usage

Alysson Aredas: Turlock Journal
April 9, 2015

When California Gov. Jerry Brown announced unprecedented conservation measures last week, attention was quickly drawn to farmers, specifically those in the almond industry, who were accused of getting a “free pass” while the rest of the state is left dry.

In the order, Brown requires that the state must cut urban water use by 25 percent compared with 2013 levels — a goal he aims to accomplish through a number of mandatory drought restrictions, including the mandate that cities can no longer water median strips in the middle of roads and the discouragement of water waste with higher rates and fees.

Not among these conservation measures, however, are rules that extend to farmers — leading many people to believe that agricultural producers have been let off the hook.

Yet, this is simply untrue according to “8 Facts about Almonds, Agriculture, and the Drought”, which was published on Wednesday by the Almond Hullers & Processors Association.

According to the organization, farmers are sharing in the painful sacrifice alongside all Californians as they have been faced with a 20 percent water allocation from the state government this year and zero allocation from the federal government.

“We recognize that almonds and agriculture will need to continue to be part of the solution, but the suggestion that agriculture has been let off the hook doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” AHPA states.

Additionally, the drought last year cost farmers $1.5 billion, led to the loss of more than 17,000 jobs related to agriculture, and forced many almond growers to pull out orchards.

“None of us want to see our lawn go brown, but not that many people outside of agriculture have lost jobs or huge portions of their income because of the drought,” said AHPA president Kelly Covello.

This clarification was just one provided by the AHPA, who published the fact sheet to correct claims about almonds and agriculture that lack context or are outright false.

“The conversation about how we’re going to get through the drought as a state is an important one, and it deserves attention, but recently that conversation has been filled with misinformation and bad facts,” said Covello. “We thought that conversations like this ought to feature actual facts so we decided to correct the record on a few things.”

The AHPA also took measures to correct the claim that almonds use 10 percent of California’s total water. According to the association, the actual figure is 8 percent of agricultural water or 3.4 percent of total water — meaning that about 90 percent of the state’s farmland is planted with other crops.

“This mistake is closely tied to the false claim that agriculture uses 80 percent of the state’s water,” said Covello. “Actually according to the state itself, it’s 41 percent.”

Other claims corrected by the AHPA included the idea that the amount of total agricultural water is increasing — it has been steady since 2000 according to the Department of Water Resources — and the accusation that most almost growers are considered “big ag,” as approximately 90 percent are small family farmers.

“If we’re going to have an honest debate about the future of our state, we need to use accurate facts and statistics,” said Covello. “Hopefully this will help add some context so we can have a fruitful conversation based on a full picture of the situation.”

Study Looks at Sunkist’s Sustainability Efforts

Tom Karst: The Packer
April 6, 2015

Meat processors may use everything but the squeal of a pig, but a new case study on sustainability shows that it is possible to use 100% of the citrus fruit, including the peel.

The study, called “From Grove to Glass and Beyond: Using the Whole Fruit,”  was conducted by Sunkist Growers Inc. in partnership with California consulting firm SureHarvest.

The study explains how Sunkist and its joint venture partners, processor Ventura Coastal LLC , have reduced waste by identifying, expanding or creating markets to use citrus that does not meet quality standards for fresh sale, according to a news release.

The study said that after receiving citrus from growers, Ventura Coastal extracts the raw juice, pulp, peel, and citrus oils. The juice is either processed as single-strength juice or concentrated to blend with citrus oils and other ingredients to meet customized flavor, color, and taste preferences of its customers, according to the study. The peel is shipped to dairies for use as feed. Ventura Coastal sells approximately 285,000 short tons of citrus peel to California dairy farmers for an ingredient in cattle feed, according to the release.

The processor packages citrus pulp, separated from the juice, into drums and pails. Essential oil, extracted from the fruit during squeezing, is refined and purified for shipment, according to the study. Citrus essence — the citrus aroma — is also captured and marketed, according to the study. Even water, the study said, is reclaimed as part of the process to reduce waste and for reuse.

An annual audit performed by Safe Quality Food Institute ensures that the Ventura Coast operation meets criteria relating to every control point that produces citrus by-products, according to the study.

“The annual audit conducted by SQF includes investigations into and verification of effectiveness of quality and food safety systems which also mitigate waste, and the negative impact on the environment from inefficient energy usage as well as effective usage of water to ensure health and safety of both the product and the environment,” the study said.

More information about Sunkist’s sustainability initiatives is on the Sunkist website.

BUCRA and PG&E Gather to Observe Solar Success

Katie Mitchell: Gridley Herald
April 3, 2015

(LtoR), BUCRA President and C.E.O. Carl Hoff, PG&E Division Manager Lia White, BUCRA Chairman of the Board Carl Lindhal gathered at the BUCRA solar array last week.

(LtoR), BUCRA President and C.E.O. Carl Hoff, PG&E Division Manager Lia White, BUCRA Chairman of the Board Carl Lindhal gathered at the BUCRA solar array last week.

The Butte County Rice Growers Association has had their solar panels up and running since 2004, and are already seeing a great return on their investment. During the Gray-outs BUCRA experienced a massive rise in what they were paying for power, and saw the need for more sustainable and reliable energy. PG&E provided the help and planning that the BUCRA needed to stop being dependent on more traditional power sources.

Every harvest season in their rice storage units, which can hold up to 45 million pounds of rice, BUCRA goes through an immense amount of power. But during the peak season for harvesting solar energy, the hot summer months, the storage units sit empty.  A Net Metering Law provides the solution to the problem.  Net Metering means that if the solar panels harness power over time, and if the facility is not using all of that power, it goes into the PG&E system and is credited to BUCRA.  When they have a greater need of power, and less power is provided by the sun, they are still able to draw off the credit they built up in the summer.  BUCRA’s initial solar field provided up to 70 percent of the energy that they needed to run the facility.  The first set of panels they installed are a “fixed array” which means that all the panels point in one direction.  The second array is even more effective.  The second set of solar panels are movable, and they track the sun over the course of the day, so they are able to pull in a lot of energy.

BUCRA, which has been in Butte County for over 100 years, made the decision to utilize solar energy when they were working to find a clean and sustainable way to improve their facility.  BUCRA are solar pioneers, in the rice industry and in Butte County, and have provided a great example of how to use solar power in a really beneficial way. Other rice businesses in the area, including Lundbergh, Far West, and Red Top have all followed suit and started using solar.

Solar Panels can be a great addition to any property, business or residential.  They can increase the value of a home, and provide a really significant long term investment, both economically, and ecologically.

California Wine: Grapes are Drought Tolerant- Not Invincible

Anita Balakrishnan: NBC News
April 2, 2015

A vicious, four-year drought may be close to catching up with California’s winemakers, and it’s the small producers of inexpensive wine that are likely to be hit hardest.

The California drought has left some vineyards with a fraction of their usual water allotment. State Water Project allocations hover around 20 percent of normal, while the San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts are delivering no more than 30-35 percent of normal supplies, according to Jay Lund, professor and blogger for the University of California-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown announced for the first time that the state would be imposing mandatory cuts in water use.

For the first nine months of 2014, shipments of wines below $7 per bottle slid 2 to 3 percent, while more expensive wines saw double-digit growth, according to a 2015 industry update by the Allied Grape Growers, a California-based trade organization.

“The American consumer of wine is trending his or her wine buying to $10 and above, and that is great for many winery brands,” President Nat DiBuduo wrote in the report. “The challenge again this year will be wines selling at $7 and below, as that price segment is retracting in volume. That market and those growers may face another difficult year in 2015.”

So far through the current drought, as thirstier crops have withered, hardy grapevines have continued to flourish. Experts like Wallace, however, say a tipping point might be coming. An increasingly crowded beverage marketplace was already pressuring California vintners to reduce prices, said Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, an institution that trains winemakers, sommeliers, importers and other industry professionals.

Drought raising costs

Meanwhile, the drought is pushing up costs for producers. To keep prices attractive, winemakers have cut costs or faced losing their customers to foreign wines or craft beers.

High-end producers in Napa Valley can accept lower grape yields in exchange for better flavors, but the same is not true for wineries that make cheaper wine and sell grapes by the pound. While people typically think of cheap wine producers as being big firms, many of the largest producers actually buy their grapes from small, independent farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

W. Blake Gray, the California editor of online publication Wine-Searcher, has watched the wine market change over his career. He said that the up-and-coming generation of wine drinkers—people in their 20s with their first full-time job—now have alternatives to cheap wine, such as craft beer or sake, to pair with fine dining.

“People like me, we write about these pampered grapes that go into expensive wines,” Gray said. “But introductory wine is machine-harvested and really cheap. The fine wine market is thriving. Cider is booming. Sake is booming. But these are all competitors to cheap wine.”

The fine wine market is thriving. Cider is booming. Sake is booming. But these are all competitors to cheap wine.”

Compared with most other crops, grapes are drought-tolerant. But they aren’t invincible. Wallace and Gray said extended periods of high stress can cause vines to stop producing fruit eventually. And while older, established grapevines can burrow 100 feet into the soil to look for water sources, without rain to flush the soil regularly, salt can build up and poison the plants.

“They will shut down and save themselves, and stop producing fruit to save energy,” Gray said. “It’s not like the San Joaquin Valley will shut down overnight. But we will need a torrential downpour for a couple years in a row. In the same sense the vines didn’t didn’t immediately shut down, they aren’t going to immediately jump and recover.”

For consumers, that may mean it’s a good idea to get hold of the good vintages while they’re still around.

“The quality may be dropping soon; you want to buy them and have them for a couple of years,” Wallace said. “They may disappear someday. You want to have them before that.

That said, Gray has written that California wine is a “tale of two markets” while the low-priced end of the market faces potential failures from the drought, the high end of the market is flourishing on the unique flavor of drought vintages.

All the gloomy forecasts aside, droughts and warmer weather actually have some upside for wine harvests, at least in the short term. The warmer the region is, the earlier the fruit ripens. And across California, it’s getting warmer sooner, affecting the skins and sugar content of the grapes, and ultimately, the flavor of the wine.

“The New World-style of wine tends to be bigger, heavier, fruit forward, higher in alcohol, ” Wallace said. “Each winery and region has its own style. But New World wines have a fuller body. You notice the fruit first.”

During dry periods, high-end wines are more flavorful, Wallace said, because the vines produce concentrated, small berries with thick skins. Wallace cites producers in Santa Ynez Valley and Howell Mountain as some of the most sought-after flavors of the past few years.

Wine Consumption Growing

In fact, consumption of wine is growing within the U.S. and expected to stay that way. The International Wine and Spirits Record said, for example, that the demand for U.S. still light wine has increased 2.87 percent since 2008 and will continue at that pace through 2019—while Spanish, French and Italian wines either experience declines or show anemic growth.

Former Mondavi winemaker Thibaut Scholasch is founder of Fruition Sciences, a firm that helps farmers take advantage of the sweet fruits produced by dry farming, using sensors, drones and data analysis to prevent stress to the plants. He said that vineyard operators need to rethink how they assess whether vines are “dry” or not.

“People try to grow vines like lush green, flower-box plants,” Scholasch said. “There is a certain level of tolerance that the plant can live with without affecting its activity. You can cut about 40 percent of water from vineyards. We are trying to untrain people from relying on what they see with their eyes.”

Fruition Science’s sensors measure real-time behavior of plants to make sure they are adapting to the amount of water instead of watering when plants “look” dry.

But not everyone agrees that technology will be enough to save the day.

“Nobody wants to say, ‘We are suffering,’ because that’s really bad for business. No one wants to say their investment is dying,” Wallace said. “Now we are in that point where we will start hearing about it. At the end of the day, the vines need water, and you have to get it to them somehow.”

‘Dry Wine’: The Plight of California Grape Growers

Anita Balakrishnan: CNBC
April 1, 2015

A vicious, four-year drought may be close to catching up with California’s winemakers, and it’s the small producers of inexpensive wine that are likely to be hit hardest.

The California drought has left some vineyards with a fraction of their usual water allotment. State Water Project allocations hover around 20 percent of normal, while the San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts are delivering no more than 30-35 percent of normal supplies, according to Jay Lund, professor and blogger for the University of California-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

For the first nine months of 2014, shipments of wines below $7 per bottle slid 2 to 3 percent, while more expensive wines saw double-digit growth, according to a 2015 industry update by the Allied Grape Growers, a California-based trade organization.

“The American consumer of wine is trending his or her wine buying to $10 and above, and that is great for many winery brands,” President Nat DiBuduo wrote in the report. “The challenge again this year will be wines selling at $7 and below, as that price segment is retracting in volume. That market and those growers may face another difficult year in 2015.”

So far through the current drought, as thirstier crops have withered, hardy grapevines have continued to flourish. Experts like Wallace, however, say a tipping point might be coming. An increasingly crowded beverage marketplace was already pressuring California vintners to reduce prices, said Keith Wallace, founder of the Wine School of Philadelphia, an institution that trains winemakers, sommeliers, importers and other industry professionals.

Meanwhile, the drought is pushing up costs for producers. To keep prices attractive, winemakers have cut costs or faced losing their customers to foreign wines or craft beers.

High-end producers in Napa Valley can accept lower grape yields in exchange for better flavors, but the same is not true for wineries that make cheaper wine and sell grapes by the pound. While people typically think of cheap wine producers as being big firms, many of the largest producers actually buy their grapes from small, independent farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.

W. Blake Gray, the California editor of online publication Wine-Searcher, has watched the wine market change over his career. He said that the up-and-coming generation of wine drinkers-people in their 20s with their first full-time job-now have alternatives to cheap wine, such as craft beer or sake, to pair with fine dining.

“People like me, we write about these pampered grapes that go into expensive wines,” Gray said. “But introductory wine is machine-harvested and really cheap. The fine wine market is thriving. Cider is booming. Sake is booming. But these are all competitors to cheap wine.”

Compared with most other crops, grapes are drought-tolerant. But they aren’t invincible. Wallace and Gray said extended periods of high stress can cause vines to stop producing fruit eventually. And while older, established grapevines can burrow 100 feet into the soil to look for water sources, without rain to flush the soil regularly, salt can build up and poison the plants.

“They will shut down and save themselves, and stop producing fruit to save energy,” Gray said. “It’s not like the San Joaquin Valley will shut down overnight. But we will need a torrential downpour for a couple years in a row. In the same sense the vines didn’t didn’t immediately shut down, they aren’t going to immediately jump and recover.”

For consumers, that may mean it’s a good idea to get hold of the good vintages while they’re still around.

“The quality may be dropping soon; you want to buy them and have them for a couple of years,” Wallace said. “They may disappear someday. You want to have them before that.”

That said, Gray has written that California wine is a “tale of two markets” while the low-priced end of the market faces potential failures from the drought, the high end of the market is flourishing on the unique flavor of drought vintages.

All the gloomy forecasts aside, droughts and warmer weather actually have some upside for wine harvests, at least in the short term. The warmer the region is, the earlier the fruit ripens. And across California, it’s getting warmer sooner, affecting the skins and sugar content of the grapes, and ultimately, the flavor of the wine.

“The New World-style of wine tends to be bigger, heavier, fruit forward, higher in alcohol, ” Wallace said. “Each winery and region has its own style. But New World wines have a fuller body. You notice the fruit first.”

During dry periods, high-end wines are more flavorful, Wallace said, because the vines produce concentrated, small berries with thick skins. Wallace cites producers in Santa Ynez Valley and Howell Mountain as some of the most sought-after flavors of the past few years.

In fact, consumption of wine is growing within the U.S. and expected to stay that way. The International Wine and Spirits Record said, for example, that the demand for U.S. still light wine has increased 2.87 percent since 2008 and will continue at that pace through 2019-while Spanish, French and Italian wines either experience declines or show anemic growth.

Former Mondavi winemaker Thibaut Scholasch is founder of Fruitition Sciences, a firm that helps farmers take advantage of the sweet fruits produced by dry farming, using sensors, drones and data analysis to prevent stress to the plants. He said that vineyard operators need to rethink how they assess whether vines are “dry” or not.

“People try to grow vines like lush green, flower-box plants,” Scholasch said. “There is a certain level of tolerance that the plant can live with without affecting its activity. You can cut about 40 percent of water from vineyards. We are trying to untrain people from relying on what they see with their eyes.”

Fruition Science’s sensors measure real-time behavior of plants to make sure they are adapting to the amount of water instead of watering when plants “look” dry.

But not everyone agrees that technology will be enough to save the day.

“Nobody wants to say, ‘We are suffering,’ because that’s really bad for business. No one wants to say their investment is dying,” Wallace said. “Now we are in that point where we will start hearing about it. At the end of the day, the vines need water, and you have to get it to them somehow.”


Blue Diamond to add Salida Almond Warehouse Capacity

John Holland: Modesto Bee
March 23, 2015

Blue Diamond Growers is boosting the warehouse capacity at its main almond receiving plant by 33 percent, another sign of the industry’s rapid growth.

Construction is underway on expanding almond storage capacity at Blue Diamond in Salida. Photo courtesy Andy Alfaro

Construction is underway on expanding almond storage capacity at Blue Diamond in Salida. Photo courtesy Andy Alfaro

The expansion will add just eight to 10 jobs at the site, which employs 370 people year-round and an additional 30 during harvest. But it will reduce wait times for truckers bringing in the crop from around the Central Valley, said Alicia Rockwell, director of corporate communications for the Sacramento-based company.

“It’s very congested in the harvest period, and this will allow us to speed up the process,” she said.

Blue Diamond did not disclose the cost of the expansion, which will make the world’s largest almond receiving site even larger. It is expected to be ready for the August start of the 2015 harvest.

Blue Diamond, a grower-owned cooperative founded in 1910, is the world’s biggest almond producer. The Salida plant, which dates to 1968, does basic sorting and cleaning of nuts bound for further processing at a Turlock plant that opened in 2013 and the plant next to the Sacramento headquarters.

The expansion totals about 58,000 square feet and will store up to 60 million pounds of almonds. It will provide for “gentle handling” of the crop as well as enhance food safety and flexibility for growers and buyers, said Darrell Nelson, manager of the Salida plant.

According to a news release, the features will include:

▪ Roof-mounted conveyors to transport incoming almonds into storage

▪ Spirals that guide the almonds from the conveyors to the ground

▪ Floors sloped at 26 degrees to allow nuts to flow into outgoing conveyors, along with automated chutes and gates

Blue Diamond is by far the largest processor of California almonds, which account for about 80 percent of the world supply. It reported about $1.5 billion in sales in the 2013-14 fiscal year, up $300 million from the previous year. The company projects 20 percent growth in the coming years.

“We have to have a place to put all these almonds that are coming to us,” Nelson said.

Almonds became the top-grossing farm product in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties in 2013, and they were second in Merced County, according to their agricultural commissioners. Their 2014 reports are in the works.


Fruit Growers Supply Company Invests in Yreka and Ontario Communities

Lance Freeman: PR Newswire
February 3, 2015

Fruit Growers Supply Company (“FGS”) announced today that it was approved as a recipient of a “California Competes Tax Credit” in recognition of its investment in growing jobs and commerce within the state by building a sawmill in Yreka and expanding its corrugated box manufacturing plant in Ontario.

“FGS is proud to be reinvesting in its infrastructure, its employees and the communities that support its operations, and to have the state recognize this reinvestment through the granting of the tax credit,” commented Mark H. Lindgren, President and CEO of FGS.

The Ontario expansion will bring new technology and capabilities to FGS’s corrugated box manufacturing plant, and create additional capabilities to serve customers.

The sawmill will be the first mill built in the state in over 30 years. Situated 50 miles south of the California/Oregon border, the “small log”/”top wood” mill in Yreka will utilize the tops of trees that are often discarded during the standard logging process.

About Fruit Growers Supply Company

Fruit Growers Supply Company is an agricultural supply cooperative incorporated in 1907 to supply citrus growers with harvesting supplies and packaging to get their fruit to the market. Today, the company owns and operates a corrugated box manufacturing plant, a wood pallet manufacturing plant, a wax coatings manufacturing plant, local retail stores in California and Arizona, and over 300,000 acres of timberlands in California, Oregon and Washington. All of these facilities and assets are there to serve not only the company’s member growers and packinghouses, but also the agricultural industry as a whole.


Growing Almonds in the Desert

Life and Work at a Family Farm in the dry Central Valley

Mike Sager: Esquire
Published: March 2015


Six mornings a week, any time of the year, at the McDonald’s restaurant off the Westley exit to California’s Interstate 5, the owner-operators of Bays Ranch can be found at the same table by the window—two straw Stetsons and a gimme cap nursing cups of hot coffee, planning the upcoming day.

At five-thirty a full moon is still high in the western sky, illuminating the undulant folds of the dwarfish Coast Range, dirt dry in this third year of drought. At the foot of the mountains, red and white lights stream north and south along the great highway that traverses the length of the state, one of the many gargantuan projects—dams, bridges, tunnels, aqueducts—built to harness the rugged landscape during the last century, when America was keen on bending nature to its will. In California, state and federal water projects pump rivers uphill, transport salmon downstream, prevent spring floods, protect snail darters, hold back salty deltas from fields, and supply a large and thirsty southern populace with water from the north. Traveling the I-5, you can see clearly the California Aqueduct, an impressively large concrete canal, 130 feet across, that flows south past fertile green plots and cracked brown fields. If not for the ambitious machinations of politicians and engineers, the eternally green landscape of southern California would be coastal sage and desert. Despite the lack of rain, dire predictions, water rationing, hand-wringing—and a collection of regulations (and conflicting views) too complex for anyone but lawyers, biodiversity experts, and full-time farmers to clearly understand—the water continues to flow.

Beyond the artificial daylight of the highway-exit services stretches the darkness of the vast and fertile Central Valley. An oblong basin just east of the Pacific Ocean, protected on all sides by mountains, nourished by snowmelt and rushing streams and deep deposits of ancient water, the Valley is 60 miles wide and 450 miles long, ranging from the city of Redding south to Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield, with San Francisco and Oakland at the western hip. Farms in the Central Valley produce 8 percent of the United States’ total agricultural output on less than 1 percent of its total farmland. More than two hundred different crops are grown here; the Valley is the country’s chief source of tomatoes, grapes, cotton, and apricots.

The Central Valley also produces about 80 percent of the world’s almonds. A few years back, studies began to appear that made a strong case that almonds were, nutritionally, the single best food a person could eat, linked to all kinds of health benefits. A Harvard study found eating nuts decreased mortality rates by 20 percent.

Today, consumption of almonds is up more than 200 percent since 2005 (and nearly 1,000 percent since 1965). A thirsty crop, requiring water year-round, even when not producing, almonds are the Golden State’s new gold—in 2013, the field price paid to farmers for almonds was about $2.50 a pound, up about 100 percent in the last decade. The 2013 crop was the second largest on record, 1.88 billion pounds, according to the Almond Board of California, down a bit from the previous year. For the fourth year, California exported more than 1 billion pounds of almonds, the second-largest export year on record. Prices for 2014 have not been tallied; like many commodities, the prices change over the year; farmers are paid averages in installments. Most agree the prices paid to farmers are likely to have been higher in 2014. Interestingly, in this time of Big Farma, 72 percent of the farms producing almonds in California are family owned; 51 percent are less than fifty acres in size. As of this season, nearly 50 percent of the 2,006 acres owned or leased by Bays Ranch is planted in almonds.

Sixty miles south of Oakland, the McDonald’s is full of work boots and long-distance commuters; the city seems a world away. Business inside the restaurant is brisk, conducted in both Spanish and English. Every time the door opens, a loud overhead fan kicks on, blowing a strong curtain of air to the floor, a precaution against dust and flies. The Bays men wear zip hoodies over plaid shirts and blue jeans. They lean forward on their elbows, warming hands on Styrofoam cups, hat brims converging.

Gene Bays is eighty-eight. His father and grandfather were farmers. There is a fruit called a Bays cherimoya, pioneered by Gene’s grandpa; only collectors eat or grow them anymore. Gene’s grandpa owned ground near Ventura, California. Then suburban sprawl swept in like a desert haboob, leaving in its wake planned communities and malls and farmers with their pockets full.

Looking for a new piece, Gene and his wife, Eleanor, drove north in 1957. A real estate agent showed them a couple of places. They liked the one in Patterson. It was three hundred acres, $1,200 an acre. The land was planted in alfalfa. The house was there, the two sheds. The Bays couldn’t afford to buy the entire plot; luckily, there was a neighbor who wanted some, too. Over the years, Bays has added ground when able—today, a family farm must be big enough to compete with the large corporations that are increasingly producing our food. Or find an expensive crop that pays the bills.gallery_1424827722-esq030115farm_final-gene

Ken Bays, fifty-five, is Gene and Eleanor’s youngest, their only son, one of three children. He and his wife, Michele, a UCLA-trained nurse who teaches vocational nursing at a nearby trade school, live about a mile from the ranch, on their own piece of ground. Ken is an assistant fire chief at the Westley Volunteer Fire Department and a member of the board of the West Side Hulling Association, the cooperative where local farmers bring their nuts for processing. He is also chairman of the board of the West Stanislaus Irrigation District. Due to the complex regulations and the patchwork nature of the land they farm, Bays Ranch is located in three different irrigation districts. To water a field, Ken has to call the district two days in advance to order the water they’ve previously pumped from their wells into the federally built Delta Mendota Canal for storage in the San Luis Reservoir. The Bays have been banking water on and off since the seventies, when drought and high interest rates—and a heavy reliance on a single cash crop—threatened the future of the ranch. In essence, they’re watering their crop with the water they’ve put away for just such a time as we’re in. All of Bays’s fields have drip systems or micro-sprinklers. (The times of flooding fields are over for most.) The sprinklers run for twelve to twenty-four hours. Last year, Bays Ranch used a lot of water, about three feet of water per acre, at a cost of about $115 an acre-foot (one acre-foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons), most of which reflects the price of electricity and fuel for pumping the water.

Aside from his time at California Polytechnic State University, two hundred miles away in San Luis Obispo, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in ag business, Ken has never worked anywhere else but Bays Ranch, not even for a summer, which he sometimes regrets. He can take apart anything and fix it. He can weld. He can handle electricity. In the prefab barn beside his house are three combines, huge machines for harvesting grain crops. In front of the barn is a fifty-foot houseboat, up on blocks, undergoing renovation. When Ken was in high school, the whole family used to spend summer Sundays at Lake McClure, about an hour and a half east; a large group of local farmers and friends did the same. (In fact, that’s the place Ken first got cozy with Michele, though they didn’t date until college.) Years later, he and Michele would take their four kids to the lake, too. The primary function of the artificially created Lake McClure is to provide irrigation water to about two thousand farms in that area. As of July, the lake was down to 25 percent of its capacity; officials were racing to have 240 boat owners move their ungainly vessels. Ken continues to work on his; he figures he’ll have it done this winter.

Ken crunches the numbers and handles all the ordering for Bays Ranch—fuel, pesticides, pipeline, gypsum for the orchard beds. It may be a family farm, but it’s still a corporation that runs itself with an annual production loan of about $2 million. (Low interest rates keep the money cheap.) There is a year-round staff of fifteen to twenty laborers. Every single item of cost for every one of their twenty-eight different fields and dozens of pieces of heavy machinery must be broken down and recorded.

Ken’s only son is Daniel Bays, twenty-eight. He’s a fifth-generation California farmer. Like his dad, there is nothing else he ever wanted to do. Daniel is also a volunteer firefighter and an avid civic booster—the other day he spent five hours in the heat with a bunch of other men, baking sixteen hundred pounds of potatoes in a large propane-fired outdoor oven for a fundraiser at Patterson High School, which Ken, Michele, Daniel, and his three sisters all attended.

Besides the ground they own and lease (they pay an annual fee per acre and all the expenses and split the take with the lessor) and their interest in brush-shredding and custom-farming businesses (custom farming means being hired out by other farmers to harvest their crops), the Bays men also share three identical sets of bemused blue eyes, with happy crinkles at the corners, and a habit of punctuating conversations with a series of dry chuckles, he he he.

“They’ll finish the almonds today, right?” Ken asks Daniel. Like most in these parts, he pronounces the word ammonds. The trees take three to four years of caretaking before a crop will grow. The nuts are harvested with a series of odd, ingenious machines created especially for their purpose. The first is a three-wheeler, low-slung (so as not to damage the branches of the trees as it prowls between the rows). It has an arm with a pincer grip, wrapped in vulcanized rubber, that grabs the trunk of each tree and shakes like the dickens, causing a heavy rain of nuts. Locals joke this is what happened to the pronunciation of the word almond—the L was shaken out of it.

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Daniel says. At Cal Poly, he departed from his father’s path and studied agricultural engineering, worked at a different ranch or ag-related profession every summer. In the family corporation, you could say he’s the chief operating officer. He does the bulk of the heavy lifting on the ranch, hauling equipment around on a semitruck, working on machinery, and overseeing the Spanish-speaking crew, some of whom are from the same family and have been with Bays for as many as twenty-five years.

“Leonardo must have had to leave early yesterday,” Grandpa Gene interjects, mentioning one of the most tenured workers; his eyebrows rise, raising the brim of his sweat-stained Stetson. In fact, Leonardo’s absence was the reason the field wasn’t finished yesterday. Nothing gets by Grandpa Gene, a spry man who survived polio and a broken back before he was old enough to get his driver’s license. The last two times his wife insisted he see a doctor, he ended up in the hospital, once for an appendectomy, once for a triple bypass. Now he goes voluntarily for checkups. Each morning and evening, he and Eleanor walk a mile. Conveniently, they can do so without having to leave their own property, strolling down a dirt road between two orchards.

gallery_1424827829-esq030115farm_final-danielGene still opens the bills and writes the checks. A former volunteer firefighter himself, he drives his white pickup to the fire station most afternoons at 4:00 P.M. for coffee with the guys at the Westley VFD. He’s been on the board of the Del Puerto Water District for more than forty years; he’s served as chairman for a decade. An hour from now, after his breakfast, he’ll be inside the Bays Ranch office, an outbuilding behind his back patio. He and Ken have facing desks. Daniel’s is against one wall. Their computers are all networked together; they have their own domain. They are beta-testing an iPad program that promises to save time.

“Leonardo had a doctor’s appointment,” Daniel explains.

“It’s fine,” Ken says. “He’ll finish up there today before you guys do the walnuts at George’s place?”

“There’s about a quarter of the field left to pick up. Good thing we ain’t had no rain,” Daniel says ruefully.

“Good thing,” says Ken.

They all chuckle, he he he.

It’s been about three months since any measurable precipitation has fallen in the region, just a brief summer storm that did more harm than good—in fact, rain at the wrong time can ruin a crop, causing mold or other damage. In the newspapers it says that farmers have pumped so much water from their wells that the ground in the Central Valley is sinking. Federal irrigation water to the area’s farmers was cut off in 2014. According to a University of California study, at least 5 percent of cropland is fallow and state agriculture has suffered $1.5 billion in losses. More than seventeen thousand farm jobs have disappeared.

Yet over the past month or so, it’s become apparent that Bays Ranch is having a good harvest, as it has for the last several years. Last month, it took hundreds of contract workers with buckets and ladders more than three weeks to pick the entire Bays apricot crop by hand—Ken estimates they took four thousand tons from about eight hundred acres, bound for jars of Smucker’s jelly and cans of Del Monte and S&W. According to the Apricot Producers of California, the final tonnage harvested for the 2014 season was greater than the previous year, which was greater than the year before that.

Hanging around Bays farm in October for the almond and walnut harvest, walking through Bays’s orchards—which ripened about two weeks early this year due to the unusual summer heat, the men believe—it has been pretty clear from the amount of nuts on the ground and in the trailers headed to the huller, where huge dunes of processed nuts wait to be outshipped, that almond yields will be strong this year, as they have been the last five, according to the California Almond Association.

Amidst the ringing of the fryer alarms and the dinging of the cash registers, the din of the customers, the roar of the passing traffic, the morning at McDonald’s is cool and cacophonous. I point out the obvious: Despite dire predictions about water and weather and the future of the family farm, it seems like Bays Ranch is doing pretty well this season.

Three identical sets of blue eyes click my way.

Nobody’s chuckling.

Daniel Bays pulls off the gravel road beside an almond orchard. On the back window of his pickup is a decal from Cal Poly and another from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association—in college, on a lark, he earned his license to fly. Daniel says he likes having that James Bond feeling of being able to handle any vehicle or piece of machinery put in his path—and being able to fix it, too. Part of being a pilot, he says, is knowing he can go anywhere he wants, even if he just prefers to stay here.

We have just crossed the Delta Mendota Canal, as we do several times a day on the way to and from the ranch and fields. Water policy allows Bays Ranch and others to pump well water into the canal, which flows into the “bank” at the San Luis Reservoir. After the payment of storage fees and a shrinkage charge to accommodate evaporation, the banked water can be sent to any of the Bays fields that are in proximity to the source well.

Bays Ranch has a “decent” supply of well water spread over a total of ten wells—it turns out asking a man about his well water is touchy business, akin to asking about the size of his harvest. But all the Bayses agree, and studies show, that groundwater in the Central Valley is at critical and historic lows. Grandpa remembers digging wells that struck water at fifty feet. Water diviners and well-drilling companies in the area are booked out nearly a year; neighbors are going down many hundreds of feet to find water. And the well water is saltier now than ever. Too much salt is bad for the plants; if it’s too salty, the water cannot be pumped into the canal for banking. As we make our rounds, we pass other folks’ orchards with leaves browned at the edges, a telltale sign of excess sodium. As it is, only two of the Bays wells can be used for banking water; the rest are too salty. Because the well pumps work at a relatively low capacity, in order to cover the banked water used this past spring and summer, Bays had to pump well water into the canal twenty-four hours a day, every day, from March through October. Last year their electric bill was $432,000.

Abutting the western side of Bays’s properties is a stretch of the Governor Edmund G. Brown California Aqueduct, built in the 1960s during the administration of current governor Jerry Brown’s father. The younger Brown has just muscled to passage a series of initiatives designed to add more capacity to the water system; part of the plan calls for the digging of huge tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta itself. As could be expected, the plan is controversial. If you wanted, you could stand on Bays ground and throw a bucket on a rope into the aqueduct. You could pull it up and water a tree. But the Bayses can’t. The water is not theirs. It’s going to southern California. Central Valley farmers who needed extra water this past summer could find it on the market for about $1,500 to $2,000 an acre-foot.

Daniel heads crossways through the rows of almonds, checking on the progress of his crew. Daniel has his mom’s peaches-and-cream complexion and her gift for book learning; he was number four in his high school class of two hundred at Patterson High. He put off entering college for a year to serve as a state officer of Future Farmers of America, traveling around California and doing community outreach events to spread the gospel of farming. Grandma Eleanor always wanted Daniel to become a doctor. Her father was a farmer, too. She’s lived through the Depression, recessions, a world war, droughts, times when interest rates were up past 18 percent. “What’s so wrong with having a profession to fall back on?” she’d ask.

But Daniel grew up playing in the fields and orchards, watching the men work in the shop. By age ten he was driving a tractor during the apricot harvest. To this day there is rancor in his voice when he discusses Patterson High’s refusal to allow him to take a welding class because it interfered with his college-prep classes. On a ranch, everything you can’t do yourself means money paid to someone else.

When Daniel was young, this part of the San Joaquin Valley was known as the Apricot Capital of the World—there were signs everywhere. Then tastes and tariffs changed, NAFTA and the EU, and the Bayses ended up taking a shaker to their orchards and plowing under the fruit—the prices being offered were too low to pay for picking. The ranch was nearly ruined. According to Ken, they’re still paying back loans from those years, which had to be refinanced because there was not enough income from their crops—operating loans are typically issued year to year and taken by the farmer in installments. Some of the loan money went to diversifying—planting a lot more almonds. And then, with the help of providence (the farmer’s familiar friend and foe), came the nutritional and scientific findings.

Currently, Bays has about eight hundred acres of apricots, one hundred of walnuts, and one hundred of row crops—beans, Italian tomatoes for paste, and melons. Row crops like beans help enrich and rejuvenate the soil between plantings of orchards, which are typically pulled up and replanted every twenty-five years. (During the crisis of the nineties, Bays was forced to pull out apricot orchards that were only ten.) Seven hundred acres are planted with almonds. Besides the produce, the orchards provide a year-round panoply of simple beauty—the flurries of pink and white petals in the spring, the summer’s fecundity, the winter’s stark bare limbs, all of the trees planted so carefully in their soldier-straight lines. To make sure the rows are laid precisely, some tractors these days are equipped with GPS; if you have a problem with the onboard computer, the IT man drives his Toyota right into your field for a service call.

Bays almond trees are generally planted in rows twenty feet apart with sixteen feet between each tree. The largest two orchards are Field 16, 110 acres, also called Bondietti, after the family from whom they lease the ground, and Field 26, 90 acres, called Baldwin, after the road it’s on. All of the property is located on the west side of Stanislaus County. The quilt of acreage—some of it owned, some of it leased—stretches in patches for nearly twenty miles. Daniel likes to joke about driving miles and miles every day and going nowhere. He has more than two hundred thousand on his F-150. A newer truck was totaled last spring when he was involved in a tragic fatal accident with a motorcycle rider one afternoon near the farm. Daniel was not charged by police with any offense. It was a deeply sorrowful event, he says.

Almond trees are actually two plants grafted together. First rootstock is planted; the varieties Bays uses have been crossbred to withstand various insects, viruses, molds, and wet conditions—Nemaguard, Lovell, and Hansen.

About a year later, once the root plant takes hold, the almond is grafted onto the top. Bays grows a large number of varieties—Nonpareil, Carmel, Wood Colony, Sonora, Butte, Padre, Fritz, Monterey, and Aldrich. Most almond strains require cross-pollination, meaning that in order for a flower to be pollinated, it must receive pollen from a different variety of flower from a different variety of tree. There have been some new varieties bred that are self-pollinating, but bees are still needed to move pollen from flower to flower. (The decline of a thriving bee population is another difficult issue.) With more varieties, which tend to bloom at different times, there is also a better chance for pollination. If there is rain and cold weather for several days, for instance, few bees will be out “working” the flowers. There are also different prices and markets for different varieties—growing different strains helps spread out risk. Finally, diverse tree strains mean a more prolonged harvest season, up to three months rather than three weeks. Bays has millions invested in harvest equipment. The more they can use the machines, the better, another reason for the custom work.

The shaker has already been through this section—a machine so delightfully purposeful you can’t help but smile when you see it in action: One tree in the still and solemn line starts shaking like crazy, and then stops, and then the next one starts up, and then the next, all the way down the line, and all the nuts pelting down each time on the glass and metal (and air-conditioned) driver’s cab like a sudden squall.

The sweeper comes next; it looks like a large orange four-wheeled armadillo with round brush legs. At the moment, a third machine is sucking up the nuts and spitting them into a trailing cart. When the cart is full, it will be pulled by tractor and dumped into the portable elevator; the nuts ride up a conveyor belt into a semitrailer. When that is full, Daniel will drive the short distance in the Bays semitruck to the huller.

All over the ranch—beside fields, inside various barns, on whole lots dedicated to storage—are uncounted tons of stuff needed for farming. Tractors and attachments and parts and irrigation pieces and specialized machines; behind Grandpa’s house, in one of the garages, Bays has an entire hardware store of spare parts, all of them stored in cubbies and orderly rows, and an entire welding operation, the immediate atmosphere fragrant with a familiar agricultural musk—rust and oil, old grass and dust and time. There are huge tanks behind Ken’s house for fuel and insecticides; it wasn’t until after high school that Daniel filled up his truck at a gas station. Though much of what Bays buys is found at auction for good prices—the reason, for instance, Ken has three combines in his barn; you always need spare parts, right?—the sheer accumulation is staggering. The assumption, of course, is that all this stuff will be needed by the next generation … and then the next.

The harvesting machine moves row by row at a fast clip, kicking up a smoke screen of red dust and diesel exhaust. Though it is October, the temperature is still over 90; the sun feels intense on the skin. There is a distinct smell of ripe men in the air. The average yearly temperature in these parts is up about 2 degrees in the last hundred years, which could be due to greenhouse gases and global warming, or could be due to the clearing of land for agriculture. Or it could be due to human habitation—houses, buildings, cars, roads, factories. Or maybe it’s happening as part of a larger cycle that humans can’t fathom. As it is, the very ground of the Central Valley is receding as the water from the spongy aquifers is depleted. The longer the drought lasts, the more we rely on groundwater, which takes decades or centuries to replace.

The air in the Central Valley is historically bad two seasons of the year. During the summer months, emissions from fossil fuels are cooked into a thick soup of ozone by the sun. During the winter, fine particulate matter becomes the issue, the result of diesel fuel, fires, wood burning for heat, and other sources of combustion. (And then there’s the methane from animal waste.) Back in the early sixties, California was a punchline for smog jokes. Over the years, with strong standards and expensive gas, the air was cleared again. But these dry times have created more temperature inversions (and more dust in the atmosphere); a layer of warmer air traps cooler air below, forcing the particulates and pollution to the ground. According to experts, heat and extreme drought have worsened smog in California in the past year, stalling decades of progress toward cleaner air. Usually rain helps to wash the air clean.

As Daniel walks through the rows of trees, he habitually reaches down and picks up a nut, or pulls one off a tree that was shaken but not released. Almonds are actually seeds. There is a green husk; inside is something that looks like a peach pit. Straight off the tree, the hull of the nut is easy to crack with your fingers. The meat is firm and delicious. It tastes like almond extract, but not so sweet.

“The drought years are what separate the men from the boys,” Daniel says, stooping to pick up another ammond. “Believe it or not, sometimes, in a drought year, you’ll make the best crops and have the most cash flow you’ll have out of any other year.”

I look at him. There’s a crisis at hand, isn’t there? Farmers are pulling up orchards; so much farmland fallow; billions in losses.

Yet in the coming weeks, Bays will get some final tallies and discover that its almond orchards yielded about two thousand pounds per acre this year. This is slightly down from last year but still considered a bumper crop, mirroring the statewide reports. (It is typical of trees that have been pumping out large harvests, as have Bays’s over the past four or five years, to take a rest for a season or two and produce smaller yields, Ken says.) Bays Ranch will not know exactly how much money it made from the Fisher Nut Company, Stewart & Jasper, and Blue Diamond until the end of 2015. Like everything else in farming, the answer is … complicated. Prices are expected to be strong—higher demand, slightly smaller crop. As I write, a booth at my local farmers’ market in San Diego is retailing Bays raw almonds for eleven bucks a pound.

“When there’s no rain, we have more control over the growing conditions,” Daniel explains. “Usually we have good sun. We have good warm weather. And right now we’ve got the water. We can control things. We know exactly what the crop needs to produce at an optimum level. If the crop gets rained on at the wrong times, you have a lot of different pest problems and moisture problems. You can lose a lot of your crop if the nuts are on the ground and it happens to rain.”

So in a way, rain can be a detriment?

Daniel shrugs his shoulder, palms up. His fingernails are dirty from cracking almonds. He chuckles, he he he.

Most days, Daniel and Ken meet home for lunch, the same house where Daniel and his three younger sisters grew up, the houseboat up on blocks in the driveway. If Michele is not off teaching a class, she still cooks the boys three meals a day. At the moment, Daniel has his own house in town, but he goes there only to sleep.

This afternoon, Daniel’s eldest sister, Marie, is home, too. She’s twenty-six, has a degree in ag management from UC Davis. Her job is similar to Daniel’s—she oversees workers and fields of produce, makes decisions about watering, fertigation (liquid fertilizer released through the sprinkler systems), harvesting, and the like. Only she does it for a big nursery and receives a regular paycheck.

Marie is an attractive young woman with blond hair and a distinct resemblance to her kin—the blue eyes and wiry frame, the muddy shit kickers left by the door. She lives down the road in a house that’s been in the family for years. Likewise, there’s a big fancy house directly across the street from Michele and Ken’s place that some people from the city built and then decided to sell. Ken wanted the land for orchards; the big house came with it. Now they rent it out for special occasions, and the relatives stay there during holiday visits. Marie’s two sisters—Christine, twenty-two, and Theresa, twenty—are away at college.

Michele has made sandwiches—avocado, tomato, and cheese with pesto. We share an oval table. Before anyone eats, we join hands in prayer.

Daniel reports the morning’s good news. Earlier he’d met the county extension agent at one of the fields, a fifty-acre plot where they’d just harvested melons. He’d asked if Bays would be part of a University of California study on fumigants.

Fumigants are used to rid the soil of pests and disease. Prior to planting, the chemicals are injected about eighteen inches under the ground by a tractor with big shanks, connected to large jugs of chemicals, one hundred to two hundred gallons each, which ride on the top of the rig. The chemicals they’ll be injecting include chloropicrin, first manufactured during World War I for use as a chemical weapon. It helps farmers rid the soil of a broad spectrum of unwanted life, including fungi, insects, and rodents. Historically, chloropicrin has been found most effective when used in combination with methyl bromide, which has been found to be extremely harmful to the ozone layer. For this trial, the experimenters will be working with a combination of chloropicrin and Telone—thought to be more ecologically sound.

Scrubbing your ground of pests means better crop yields. And after the test is over, they’ll be able to plant whatever they want. It’s like winning a small-farm lottery. There is minor jubilation around the table.

“I just went to a training session and they talked all about chloropicrin and Telone,” Marie says. “They like that combo best—well, methyl bromide is best if you can get it.”

“Can you even get that anymore?” asks Michele; she grew up in town, but her dad was a field agent for Spreckels Sugar. And of course, she’s been a farmer’s wife for three decades. Ken also does a little farming with one of her brothers, primarily almonds for Blue Diamond.

“We can say we’re gonna grow strawberries and then change our mind after it’s fumigated,” suggests Ken, he he he.

“That’s why Joe wanted you to rent that piece of ground from him over there in Livingston,” Daniel says, speaking of a neighbor.

“Get that field cleaned right up!” Ken says.

“And then he can plant ammonds in it,” Daniel says.

“Oh yeah, I’m sure of that,” Marie says ruefully.

It grows quiet around the table as we chew. I mention that a lot of people portray farmers these days as the bad guys—using harmful chemicals, injecting animals with hormones, releasing emissions into the air, pumping the aquifers dry, killing the environment.

“You’re portrayed as someone who’s just out here raping the dirt, trying to suck every last penny out,” Daniel says.

Everyone nods in agreement. “But if you’re doing that, you’re not going to be in business very long. How much more of an environmentalist can you be than making your living off the land and looking for the long-term betterment of it?”

“We want to have something to leave for the next generation,” Ken says. “And hopefully they can carry it on, and hopefully it will be carried on after that.”

I mention the drought, the climate. A lot of hope is needed.

“We’ve had droughts before,” Daniel says. “Things cycle. If you look over a hundred-year period of your rain cycles and water cycles, we’re not that far out of whack. I think a lot of it is the media hype, drumming up the shock factor. The big difference now compared to, say, 1977, when we had the last big drought, is the regulatory environment. We’ve been dealing with political droughts for the past five or six years—really the past twenty years—but the past five or six have been some of the worst. Let’s face it, they’re doing more to protect the snail darter and the salmon than they are to protect the food supply.”

Marie frowns. “In the future, I think things are going to be even more regulation based—there are so many regulations and safety trainings and paperwork that are required of people who want to be in the farming industry nowadays. But I like to think positive. I think people are always going to have to eat, so the farming industry is a good place to be.”

“There’s always some type of crisis facing us, whether it’s water or weather or markets,” Daniel says. “If every time there was a crisis we just threw up our hands, we’d go out of business. Part of the balancing act is risk management over the long term.”

Although there’s been a lot of criticism this past year about permanent plantings and thirsty crops like almonds, Ken and Daniel insist that the water requirements are not that much different from cotton or tomatoes or an annual crop. Not to mention the record prices almonds and walnuts are bringing.

“With higher prices, you can afford to pay more for the water, more for fuel—it’s all inflationary,” Daniel says.

“That’s the kind of thing we get frustrated about. If we could have had these prices with the water we had eight years ago, we’d be rocking and rolling—but that’s farming. Nothing’s ever going to be 100 percent your way. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

“You know what farmers always say,” Michele adds. “We don’t need to go to Las Vegas. We gamble every single day.”

Everybody cracks up.

Grandpa Gene and Grandma Eleanor are out for their morning walk. As always, they bring along Tweety, their white maltipoo. It’s not unusual for people to drop off unwanted dogs out here in the country; that’s how Tweety came to live with them. The Bays have seen a lot of strays over the years, but Tweety is different. “She’s a real keeper,” Eleanor says. Walking on their own property, they don’t need a leash or a plastic bag.

At seven in the morning, the sun is low on the horizon, round and orange in the east; to the west the moon is still high, full and brightly extravagant, above the Coast Range—the fur of straw-brown vegetation glows warmly in the soft light. The couple moves at a decent pace down a dirt road, with almond orchards on both sides, the mountains visible to the west through the newly pruned trees. A half mile out, at the junction with a third orchard, they stop and turn around.

“You’re doing pretty good this morning, Mama,” Gene says, adjusting his Stetson.

“The morning’s better than the evening,” Eleanor says. “Sometimes I have to stop and catch my breath.”

They were both raised in Ventura, which is now part of the suburban sprawl that flows northwest from Los Angeles. They’ve been married sixty-four years.

“Your dad grew beans and sugar beets,” Gene says.

“And avocados and lemons,” Eleanor adds.

“And we had avocados, almonds, walnuts, beans, tomatoes, different things,” Gene says.

“Does that smell like smoke?” Eleanor asks.

“I smell a skunk,” Gene says.

“Tweety,” Eleanor calls. The dog scampers over. “You’d better stay right here so you don’t get sprayed. Come on Tweets, ’cause you’re a keeper.”

We walk a little farther, eyes peeled.

“Gonna be another hot one today,” Gene says.

“I liked it down there in Ventura,” Eleanor says. “You didn’t get the heat. The first year we moved up here, in ’57, it was the hottest summer I think we ever had, and the foggiest winter. We used to get what they call tule fog. It was so thick in the mornings. And the kids had to go to school.”

“You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face,” Gene says.

“You couldn’t see your hand,” Eleanor says. “But we haven’t really had that kind of fog for several years now.”

“Not for several years,” Gene says.

“Not like it used to be.”

“Nothin’s like it used to be,” Gene says.

What do you think about the drought and the weather, all that?

Grandpa Gene chews on the question for a few steps. “Everything repeats,” he says. “You stick around long enough and everything goes around.”

“The weather’s the weather,” Eleanor says. “There’s nothing you can do to change it.”

“Well, the weather ain’t been bad this week,” Gene says. “You should come when it’s really hot” he he he.

We walk a bit farther in silence, back in the direction of the barns and the house. Gene gestures with his left hand toward an almond orchard. “This here is our home piece,” he says. “That’s what came with the house.”

Eleanor nods in affirmation. This is where it all started. Three kids, thirteen grandchildren. Two thousand and six acres. A life.

“This is good dirt here,” Gene says. “It’s been good.”

We stand a moment admiring the view of the mountains through the trees, the lightening sky, clear and cloudless.

“There’s supposed to be a complete change in weather next week,” Eleanor says.


Richvale’s Butte County Rice Growers Association outlasts most cooperatives, hits 100-year mark

Heather Hacking: Chico-Enterprise Record
Published: January 15, 2015

The legacy that is now Richvale could have turned out many different ways. When settlers came to the areas more than 100 years ago, many bought the land sight unseen. Most were Swedish Americans who had traveled from Kansas and Nebraska. They expected to find good ground for growing but found adobe soil and a relentless summer sun.

Those early to arrive could have kept their bags packed and left the dust behind. Yet, soon it was discovered that where trees and row crops would struggle, rice would do just fine.

A century later, leaders of one of the oldest rice cooperatives in the United States gathered to celebrate a milestone seldom known in agriculture. The Butte County Rice Growers Association reached 100 years.

Photo courtesy Butte County Rice Growers Association Association Homer Lundberg gives an invocation at the celebration for Butte County Rice Growers’ 100th year as a rice cooperative.

Photo courtesy Butte County Rice Growers Association Association Homer Lundberg gives an invocation at the celebration for Butte County Rice Growers’ 100th year as a rice cooperative.

“Thank you to those growers,” who made decisions to make it work in Richvale, said longtime rice grower Homer Lundberg.

“We stand on the shoulders of all these people,” who “put success of the cooperative above the success of their own operations.”

Hundreds gathered last week for a centennial celebration held at Chico State University, a fancy version of the annual growers’ meeting.

Yellow banners were hung along one wall, listing the names of the members of the board of directors since inception. Many grandchildren and great-grandchildren with those same names are still farming that same land near Richvale.

Over the past year, elder rice growers were interviewed to share stories about those early days. Snippets from those talks have been used for a video produced by the cooperative.

Over time, the rice industry has changed, and the success of the rice cooperative depended on change as well, speakers at the annual meeting shared.

Laverne Grell, who recently turned 100 years old, recalls the days when each farmer brought in their bags of rice, which were kept in individual piles.

In the early 1950s, growers realized it would be easier to gather the harvest from each grower and dry it together. However, each farmer would naturally believe their personal crop was among the best grown, said Denny Lindberg, who was born in the early 1920s in Richvale.

The group agreed to a to check the rice quality and price each farmer’s harvest accordingly.

When farmers switched from horse-drawn harvester to machines, the amount of rice grown on each acre of land increased rapidly. This called for more drying capacity by the cooperative. Expansion followed.

Even the plants themselves have changed over the past century. With selective breeding, new varieties of plants grow better in the Sacramento Valley and produce more bags for the buck.

Lindberg talks in the video about a vote in 1969 when growers agreed to a 5-cent assessment for every 100-pound sack of rice, to pay for plant breeding. Rice growers throughout the state also voted to help pay for continuous plant innovation.

Part of the package for the Butte County Rice Growers Association has been to add partnerships, to provide basic fertilizers in bulk and other services members need, speakers explained.

Over time, the cooperative spent large amounts of money to expand the drying and storage capacity. More recently, energy generation has been added to make use of the valley’s steady summer sun.

None of that would have happened if a group of men had not gathered Dec. 29, 1914, and signed the bylaws of the original board of directors, said Tim Johnson, president of the California Rice Commission.

Statewide, 1,000 acres of rice was grown in 1912. Today there are more than 550,000 acres, he said.

In all of the United States, there are 134 cooperatives that have reached the 100-year mark, BUCRA president Hoff said. Of those, only five are in California.

Farmer Gary Stone joked that despite marrying into the Rystrom Family he has still not been fulling accepted into the Swedish Clan.

He served on the BUCRA board of directors for nine years, and has been farming since 1978.

The rice cooperative is a source of pride for the community, he said, and something he has confidence will continue to be part of his family’s tradition. Two of his sons are actively farming, representing the fifth generation rice farmers in the family.

In general, cooperatives struggle. Over the course of time the board of directors can have disagreements or make decisions not well received by members. That hasn’t been the case for BUCRA, Stone said, because members of the board have acted in the interest of “the greater good.”

Lundberg, who gave the invocation during the 100-year-celebration, said the legacy of the group is of “people who gave generously of their time.”

Richard Price, Butte County’s agricultural commissioner, said he has always been impressed by the innovation shown by the cooperative.

2014 Ag Leadership Award Recipients Honored

California Agricultural Leadership Foundation
Published: October 20, 2014

Three individuals were honored with the 2014 Ag Leadership Awards by the California Agricultural Leadership Foundation (CALF) and the Ag Leadership Alumni Council. The awards were presented on Oct. 16 at Fresno State.

Nat DiBuduo and Mary Kimball received the 2014 Profiles in Leadership Award, which recognizes Ag Leadership Program alumni for their leadership actions resulting in the betterment of industry, community, business, government, education and/or the environment.

DiBuduo, of Fresno, is the president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers and a Class 6 alumnus. He is a well-known voice and strong advocate for the winegrape industry. He has shown leadership and commitment through years of active involvement with numerous local and agricultural organizations and with Fresno State. Kimball, of Woodland, is the executive director of the Center for Land-Based Learning and a Class 32 alumnus. She has shown tremendous dedication to educating and training students about agriculture and land stewardship. She has also given her time, energy and enthusiasm to many agricultural and community groups.

Dr. Lester Young received the 2014 Honorary Fellow Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated consistent commitment and uncommon excellence in the furtherance of education and leadership in California agriculture. Recipients are also dedicated and longtime supporters of the California Agricultural Leadership Program.

Young is the retired dean of the College of Agriculture at Cal Poly Pomona, where he had a remarkable 36-year career. In his capacity as dean, Young provided valuable expertise, insight and support to Ag Leadership while serving on the CALF board, Dean’s Council and Ag Leadership candidate screening committees.

“We are proud to shine the spotlight on these deserving individuals for exhibiting outstanding leadership in work and volunteer endeavors,” said CALF President and CEO Bob Gray. “Nat, Mary and Lester are dedicated leaders who have made positive and significant contributions to the agriculture industry, communities and beyond. We thank them for their efforts and for making a difference.”

CALF operates the Ag Leadership Program, which is considered to be one of the premier leadership development experiences in the United States. Since it was first delivered in 1970, more than 1,200 men and women have participated in the program and have become influential leaders and active volunteers in agriculture, government, communities, business and education.


Nat DiBuduo, Class 6
Nat DiBuduo is the president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers, a winegrape marketing cooperative representing nearly 600 members in California and producing 275,000 tons annually. He grew up in agriculture in the Fresno/Clovis area with a family history in farming. Nat’s volunteerism is extensive. For his alma mater, he is a member of the Fresno State Viticulture & Enology Industry Advisory Board and the Fresno State Foundation Board of Governors. He was also a founding board member of the university’s Ag One Foundation. Locally, DiBuduo is a board member for Friends of the Big Fresno Fair and a former board member of the 21st District Agricultural Association–Big Fresno Fair. He spent 16 years on the Fresno City Planning Commission and is currently involved in the Creating Prosperity initiative for the city of Fresno and Fresno County. In agriculture, DiBuduo is a board member for San Joaquin Valley Winegrowers, California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG), California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, Ag Council of California, National Wine & Grape Initiative, and Pierce’s Disease/Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter, and he serves on the California Farm Bureau Federation Grape Advisory Committee. He previously served on the boards for California Ag Leadership Foundation and California Grape & Tree Fruit League. Among his other honors, DiBuduo was named 2012 Leader of the Year by CAWG, 2008 Distinguished Alumni of the Year by Fresno State, and 2007 Agriculturalist of the Year by the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mary Kimball, Class 32
Mary Kimball is the executive director of the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL), a nonprofit dedicated to creating the next generation of farmers and teaching California’s youth about the importance of agriculture and natural resource conservation. She started with CLBL in 1998 as the first employee and with only one program. She now oversees six programs in 18 counties: FARMS Leadership Program, SLEWS Program, Growing Green Internship Program, Caring for our Watersheds, The Farm on Putah Creek, and California Farm Academy. Raised on a farm in Yolo County, Kimball is active in many local and regional groups. She is immediate past chair of the Yolo County Planning Commission and co-chair of Sacramento Metro Chamber’s “Cap-to-Cap” Ag and Food Team. She served on the Yolo Land Trust board for eight years (three as chair), was the Ag Leadership Alumni Council Region 3 director for six years, is a member of the Yolo Community Foundation Advisory Circle, and a founding member of the Yolo County Ag and Food Alliance. Kimball received the U.S. Department of Interior’s 2013 Partners in Conservation Award and the 2003 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award on behalf of CLBL. In 2004, she was honored with the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Award of Distinction-Outstanding Young Alumna.

Dr. Lester Young
Lester Young retired in September 2014 as dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Agriculture, a position he had held since January 2009. During his 36 years at Cal Poly, he held several other positions, including interim dean, associate vice president of student services, associate dean, and professor of agricultural biology. Young was passionate about carrying out the mission and goals of the college. He provided faculty leadership and staff support to achieve excellence in teaching, research and professional development. Young helped to ensure student success and served as a mentor and advisor. He volunteered for various committees and organizations, including the California State University Agricultural Advisory Committee, Academic Affairs Division Budget Advisory Committee, and the Cal Poly Pomona Asian Pacific Faculty Staff Student Association. He also served on the boards of the American Association of Schools and Colleges of Agriculture and Renewable Resources and LEAD21, a leadership and professional development training program for faculty and professionals in the land-grant system. Young was a recipient of the College of Agriculture Adviser of the Year Award and the university’s Champion of Diversity Award. In his capacity as dean, Young served on the California Ag Leadership Foundation board, Dean’s Council and on Ag Leadership candidate screening committees.

Horizon Nut Company Expansion in the Works

Amanda Venegas: ABC 30
Published: Thursday, October 16, 2014

California produces 40 percent of the world’s pistachios. Here in the Valley, one grower-owned company is expanding to keep up with the increasing demand.

Horizon Nut Company is set to bring hundreds of jobs to Fresno County when its new processing facility is complete, at Jerrold and Shaw Avenues, southwest of Firebaugh.

Horizon Nut Company is set to bring hundreds of jobs to Fresno County when its new processing facility is complete.

Horizon Nut Company is set to bring hundreds of jobs to Fresno County when its new processing facility is complete.

The land near Firebaugh was once barren, but now dirt is being moved to make way for a new pistachio processing facility for Horizon Nut Company.

Fresno County Supervisor Phil Larson said, “This is exciting because this is really bringing an industry that hasn’t been here.”

Larson advocated to save the land and to bring business to the area. He was among dozens that gathered to celebrate the new chapter for this land.

“This is part of the Broadview Water District,” said Larson. This land was abandoned and almost sold out of Fresno County and through our efforts at the board of supervisors and along with a couple of smart attorneys we saved it.”

Leaders say unemployment in the Firebaugh-Mendota area hovers around 40 percent, but this new hulling and processing facility will bring 300 positions. Jobs much needed since the drought has hit the west side particularly hard.

“There’s been a lot of issues on the west side, drought,” said Ted Sheely. “There’s not good news out there, so I can say this is good news for our growers.”

Ted Sheely with Horizon Nut Company says his growers have been waiting for years to build the facility. Sheely says half the pistachio acreage in the state is still growing and there’s a lot more to come.

“To handle what we are going to need in give years from now we have to have more capacity,” said Sheely.

The 1,200 acre site will more than double the company’s processing capacity to 100 million pounds of pistachios a year.

Construction is expected to last about a year. Leaders say once built, the Horizon Nut Company facility will help the industry grow not only locally, but globally.

Farm Beat: Ag co-ops thrive in Valley and beyond

John Holland: The Modesto Bee
Published: Friday, October 3, 2014

Almonds cascade down a chute at Blue Diamond Growers' bulk warehouse in Salida. BRIAN RAMSAY — Modesto Bee file Buy Photo

Almonds cascade down a chute at Blue Diamond Growers’ bulk warehouse in Salida.
BRIAN RAMSAY — Modesto Bee file Buy Photo

Blue Diamond Growers is a cooperative, owned by the farmers who supply the almonds it markets. So are some of the dairy processors in and near Stanislaus County.

It’s a pretty sound way of doing business, judging by a report this week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It said ag co-ops across the nation had a record $246 billion in sales last year, a 4 percent gain over 2012. It was the third straight annual increase, reflecting the strength of agriculture overall.

The sales total includes farms, ranches and fishing ventures that sell their products through co-ops, along with co-ops that provide goods and services, such as seed and fertilizer, to these producers.

“These co-ops play a vital and growing role in the nation’s economy,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release.

This business model allows members to pool their resources with the goal of getting a good price for their crops or livestock products.

It is a substantial part of the farm economy: The USDA estimates $482 billion in total gross farm income this year, including producers who sell through channels outside the co-ops, such as family-owned or publicly traded companies.

The USDA released its annual list of the 100 largest ag co-ops as part of this week’s announcement. Some highlights:

• No. 1 by far is CHS Inc. of St. Paul, Minn., which deals in crops, energy and farm supplies and had $44.5 billion in sales in 2013.

• No. 2 is Land O’Lakes Inc., also based in St. Paul, at $14.3 billion. Its holdings include Turlock plants that make Kozy Shack pudding and Purina animal feed.

• No. 3 is Dairy Farmers of America, based in Kansas City, Mo., at $12.9 billion. It has a Turlock plant that makes cheese and a Hughson plant for condensed milk and other products.

• No. 6 is California Dairies Inc., based in Artesia, Los Angeles County, at $3.9 billion. It has a butter and powdered milk plant in Turlock and a cheese and condensed milk operation in Los Banos.

• No. 25 is Blue Diamond, at $1.2 billion. It processes almonds in Salida and Turlock and at its headquarters plant in Sacramento.

• No. 71 is Pacific Coast Producers at $534 million. Its cannery in Lodi gets some of the peaches and apricots grown in and near Stanislaus County.

Although business generally is good for co-ops these days, the model is not foolproof. Tri Valley Growers, once a dominant canner of tomatoes, peaches and other fruit in Modesto and elsewhere, filed for bankruptcy in 2000 after years of losses. Other companies took over some of the plants, but the blow to the canning industry was substantial.

Back to the 2013 numbers from the USDA: It reported that ag co-ops had record net income of $6.2 billion last year after deducting costs from the sales income. Co-ops use these earnings to upgrade their operations, and they share some of it with their owner-farmers.

The USDA also reported that about 136,000 people worked full time for co-ops last year, up 5 percent from 2012.

CoBank Named the Safest Bank in the United States By Global Finance Magazine

Published: September 11,2014

CoBank has been named the safest bank in the United States by Global Finance magazine, and earned a place on its “World’s 50 Safest Banks” list for a fourth consecutive year.

Global Finance, which covers the financial services industry, publishes the “World’s 50 Safest Banks” list annually, and released its rankings for 2014 yesterday. Banks are ranked using a methodology that includes total assets and an evaluation of long-term ratings from major rating agencies. CoBank was first named to the list in 2011.

“We’re very pleased to have earned this distinction,” said Robert B. Engel, CoBank’s chief executive officer. “Financial strength and stability is something all our customers look for when choosing a banking partner. We greatly value the trust our customers place in us, and it is essential that we continue to deliver exceptional value to them while maintaining a strong financial foundation for the long term.”

The ranking will be published in the November issue of Global Finance. Further information is available at the magazine’s web site at www.gfmag.com.

Not All Industrial Food is Evil

Mark Bittman: The New York Times
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I’ve long wondered how producing a decent ingredient, one that you can buy in any supermarket, really happens. Take canned tomatoes, of which I probably use 100 pounds a year. It costs $2 to $3 a pound to buy hard, tasteless, “fresh” plum tomatoes, but only half that for almost two pounds of canned tomatoes that taste much better. How is that possible?

The answer lies in a process that is almost unimaginable in scope without seeing it firsthand. So, fearing the worst — because we all “know” that organic farming is “good” and industrial farming is “bad” — I headed to the Sacramento Valley in California to see a big tomato operation.

Kim Steele for The New York Times. Machine-harvesting tomatoes at Rominger Brothers Farms in Winters, Calif.

Kim Steele for The New York Times. Machine-harvesting tomatoes at Rominger Brothers Farms in Winters, Calif.

I began by touring Bruce Rominger’s farm in Winters. With his brother Rick and as many as 40 employees, Rominger farms around 6,000 acres of tomatoes, wheat, sunflowers, safflower, onions, alfalfa, sheep, rice and more. Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food — not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That’s a good start.

On an 82-acre field, tomato plants covered the ground for a hundred yards in every direction. Water and fertilizer are supplied through subsoil irrigation — a network of buried tubing — which reduces waste and runoff and assures roughly uniform delivery along the row. (In older, furrow-irrigated fields — in which ditches next to the rows of plants are flooded with water from a central canal — tomatoes at the ends of rows suffer.)

The tomatoes are bred to ripen simultaneously because there is just one harvest. They’re also blocky in shape, the better to move along conveyor belts. Hundreds of types of tomatoes are grown for processing, bred for acidity, disease resistance, use, sweetness, wall thickness, ripening date and so on. They’re not referred to by cuddly names like “Early Girl” but by number: “BQ 205.”

I tasted two; they had a firm, pleasant texture and mild but real flavor, and were better than any tomatoes — even so-called heirlooms — sold in my supermarket.

I mounted the harvester, a 35-foot-long machine that cuts the vine underground and lifts it into its belly, where belts and sensors return dirt, vine, root and green tomatoes to the soil. (All this material is either turned back into the soil or left for sheep to graze on.) Two people on each side sort the continual stream of tomatoes manually before a conveyor transfers the tomatoes by chute to a gondola. When one gondola is full (it holds 25 tons), it’s replaced by another. This way, Rominger can harvest around 20 acres in a 24-hour period: 1,000 tons. He estimates his cost at $3,000 per acre and hopes for a $500 profit on each. “Of course,” he told me, “sometimes I have a field that collapses on me, and I lose $500.”

Fifty years ago, tomatoes were picked by hand, backbreaking piecework that involved filling and lugging 50-pound boxes. Workers had few rights and suffered much abuse, as did the land: irrigation and fertilizer use were more wasteful, and chemicals were applied liberally and by the calendar, not sparingly by need.

Although the mechanical harvester was controversial when it was first introduced — the United Farm Workers fought its use, fearing it would cost jobs — it revolutionized the industry. (Its impact has been compared to that of the cotton gin.) Yields have more than doubled since the 1960s, and California now produces almost all the canned tomatoes and paste in the United States and more than a third of the world’s. For 12 to 14 weeks every summer, Rominger and other growers are harvesting 24/7.

The canneries also operate nonstop. My next visit was to Pacific Coast Producers (P.C.P.), a co-op down the road. It packs for Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, Ralphs and other major chains. Its annual sales, on 20 million cases of whole, diced, crushed, ground and sliced tomatoes; sauce; paste; and more, are more than $250 million.

Imagine all the tomatoes you’ve ever seen, multiplied by a thousand, and you begin to get some idea of the lineup outside P.C.P., which in a 24-hour period may go through 300 gondolas, holding 7,500 tons all together.

At P.C.P., workers first random-sample the tomatoes in an elaborate process that determines both where on the processing line the tomatoes wind up (an algorithm decides which fruit from which gondolas to combine for the best-tasting sauce, for example) and the exact amount the growers are paid for that load. This year, it’s somewhere around 3.5 cents per pound; if you’re wondering what percentage of the price of the canned tomato you buy goes to the farmer, I’m figuring it’s around 2.

The cannery itself is a whirlwind of moist, intense heat and subway-level noise. At peak times, P.C.P. employs more than 1,000 workers. My liberal heart was bleeding at the thought of minimum wage for this tough work — some (not all) of these workstations are as unpleasant as any I’ve seen — but the plant is unionized. So, according to a P.C.P. spokesman, the average wage is about $17 an hour, and there are benefits.

IT’S far from paradise, but it isn’t hell either. The basic question is this: Are the processes and products healthy, fair, green and affordable?

Workers in the fields have shade, water and breaks; they’re not being paid by the piece. Workers in the plants are not getting rich but they’re doing better than they would working in the fields, or in a fast-food joint.

Rominger is managing his fields conscientiously and, by today’s standards, progressively. He’s also juggling an almost unimaginable array of standards set by the state, by P.C.P. and other processors, and even by his customers, who may say things like, “What are you doing about nitrate runoff?”

The canner P.C.P. is running what appear to be safe and clean production lines while producing close-to-“natural” tomato products that nearly anyone can afford.

Oddly, affordability is not the problem; in fact, the tomatoes are too cheap. If they cost more, farmers like Rominger would be more inclined to grow tomatoes organically; to pay his workers better or offer benefits to more of them; to make a better living himself.

But the processed tomato market is international, with increasing pressure from Italy, China and Mexico. California has advantages, but it still must compete on price. Producers also compete with one another, making it tough for even the most principled ones to increase worker pay. To see change, then, all workers, globally, must be paid better, so that the price of tomatoes goes up across the board.

How does this happen? Unionization, or an increase in the minimum wage, or both. No one would argue that canned tomatoes should be too expensive for poor people, but by increasing minimum wage in the fields and elsewhere, we raise standards of living and increase purchasing power.

The issue is paying enough for food so that everything involved in producing it — land, water, energy and labor — is treated well. And since sustainability is a journey, progress is essential. It would be foolish to assert that we’re anywhere near the destination, but there is progress — even in those areas appropriately called “industrial.”

A version of this article appears in print on 08/18/2013, on page SR4 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Not All Industrial Food Is Evil.

Monsanto Opens New Research Facility

Written by Matthew Blackburn – mblackburn@davisenterprise.net
August 22, 2013

Photo courtesy of The Davis Enterprise

Photo courtesy of The Davis Enterprise

Monsanto’s current lab is only a quarter of the size of the new lab, allowing the company to expand its research.

Data collected in the laboratory from seed and tissue samples analyzed from greenhouses and fields is sent to Monsanto’s headquarters in St. Louis. Breeders are able to view results and select which plants they would like to continue to propagate or discard in their breeding programs.

Despite the facility’s main focus on conventional breeding techniques of more than 20 kinds of vegetables through cross pollination, the heavily secured ceremony was shadowed by fewer than a dozen protesters along Highway 16 holding a “Shut down Monsanto” sign.

Anthony Harling, an Anti-Monsanto Project member, said he was there to bring awareness to Monsanto’s chemical and bioengineered products that he argues are not yet proven to be safe.

“Their products have a lot of negative side-effects, and they are marketing them as safe,” said Harling, whose uncle has contracted three types of cancer since being exposed to Monsanto’s Agent Orange defoliation chemical while serving in the Vietnam War.

Harling also said the former executives of Monsanto are moving on to the Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the Supreme Court where they allegedly can push Monsanto’s agenda that its products are safe for the environment without adequate testing.

“They are buying their way to the top of our government and saying their products are safe to use when they are really not,” Harling alleged. “A lot of the employees that work here don’t know the impacts of their products.”

Countered Oppenhuizen, “We are part of Monsanto. We recognize that (Monsanto is) not well understood.”

He said the company received an overwhelmingly positive response at its booth from attendees at last weekend’s Woodland Tomato Festival.

“We are concentrated on conventional breeding practices bringing better varieties and nutritional qualities,” Oppenhuizen said. “Many people see us as part of the community here.”

Yolo County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, a local farmer, spoke at Thursday’s ceremony about his experience growing Monsanto products.

“As a Yolo County grower, I’m excited about the dedication of this laboratory and what it means to farmers not only in Yolo County, but throughout California and the world,” Chamberlain said. He grows 500 acres of Monsanto’s Round-up Ready alfalfa.

“Nearly all the fruits and vegetables that we eat begin with a seed,” he continued. “The growers are dependent on the continuous improvement of seed varieties for disease resistance, yield and vigor. The work that Monsanto and other seed companies do in Yolo County is vital in meeting the needs of the growing world population.”

Many of the plants are tested in Guatemala where the climate and growing conditions are prime for growing — seed to seed is very fast, a Monsanto spokeswoman said.

The wide halls of the sleek facility were built to accommodate tour groups, and lab tables were installed with wheels to adapt to the changes of the seed industry and offer the ability to rearrange the lab to accommodate new research projects.

“I am able to walk in fields all across the globe and see what kind of difference these products make on our customers and our consumers,” Oppenhuizen said. “Whether you are in Poland or just down the street in California, there is a tremendous passion about our business. This facility will continue to build upon the great products we have in our pipeline.”

By the end of the ceremony and facility tours, the protesters had left.

“I just want to bring awareness to people out there of what is going on and get them to do their own research,” Harling said. “I want people to realize what is in their back yard.”

Valley Fig Growers Continues On A Greener Path with Solar Panel Installation

Screen Shot 2013-07-12 at 11.30.11 AM

June 28, 2013

Fresno, CA (June, 2013) – Valley Fig Growers, a non-profit grower-owned cooperative with 25 grower members, is proud to announce the planned installation of a solar array of photovoltaic panels that will generate 60 percent of their electrical needs and reduce its carbon footprint.

Valley Fig Growers, interested in exploring ways to reduce costs and move towards a greener energy producing system, will be working with JKB Energy. JKB Energy proposed a system which would generate 60% of Valley Fig Growers’ electrical needs and breakeven in today’s dollars. With anticipated electrical cost inflation factored in, Valley Fig Growers will reduce costs substantially over the next 10 years.

The project was presented to the board of directors and they approved $1.4 million to purchase a 625 kW photovoltaic electrical generation system from JKB Energy. The system will be financed and leased through Farm Credit Leasing.

These panels will be installed on the roof of all warehouse buildings. Construction will begin in July, with scheduled completion within 100 days of the start date.

“This system married with the process water anaerobic digester we completed several years ago will make Valley Fig Growers a model for other California food processors and will keep us on the cutting edge of the sustainability movement,” says Mike Emigh, outgoing President of Valley Fig Growers. “Contrary to Kermit’s standard line,” Mr. Emigh says, “It’s easy to be green.”

About Valley Fig Growers

Valley Fig Growers (VFG) is located in Fresno, California. All of the commercially sold dried figs produced in the United States are grown in the Fresno area and north, in the fertile San Joaquin Valley. California represents 10% of the world production of dried figs. VFG was established in 1959 and is the largest handler of figs in North America. The cooperative has 25 grower members representing about 40% of the California fig industry. VFG markets its products worldwide. Retail products are sold under Valley Fig Growers own brand names of Blue Ribbon Orchard Choice, Sun-Maid and Old Orchard. For more information, please visit www.valleyfig.com.

Blue Diamond Opens Turlock Plant

Written by Alex Cantatore – alex@turlockcitynews.com
Tuesday, June 18, 2013


Blue Diamond plant in TurlockCourtesy of Blue Diamond Growers

It wasn’t a blue ribbon day. It was a Blue Diamond day.

Blue Diamond Growers opened the doors of its state-of-the-art Turlock almond processing facility on Tuesday, bringing hundreds of jobs to town and revolutionizing the almond industry in the process.

“Welcome to the most anticipated day in the history of our co-op,” said Mark Jansen, President and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers. “… It is difficult to describe in a few words how excited and proud we are.”

Blue Diamond Growers, the world’s largest almond grower cooperative, posted record-breaking revenues of more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2011-2012. It’s the Turlock almond processing facility that will take the cooperative to the next level, executives said.

Construction started just 14 months ago on phase one of the nearly 200,000 square-foot facility. Today, Jansen said the plant is the safest, most-efficient, highest output almond processing facility in the world.

The facility is being termed as the “largest capital investment in the history of the almond industry,” though Blue Diamond is not releasing the specific dollar cost of the facility.

“This will be the largest facility of its kind in the world,” Bruce Lish, Blue Diamond General Manager of Industrial Operations said.

The plant contains three almond processing lines. One, dedicated to processing raw, in-the-skin almonds, has been operational for about eight weeks. The other two lines, processing blanched almonds, will enter service in the coming weeks.

Each line prepares “value-added” almonds, slicing, dicing, and pasteurizing nuts for other producers to use in goods like cereal, baked goods, and candies.

Already, about 40 people are at work at the plant, Lish said. And hiring is not yet completed.

“We’re looking for about 40 more,” said Ulli Thiersch, Blue Diamond Director of Project Management and Construction. “If you know people who have two to three years of operations experience, we’d love to talk to them.”

Full operations, with between 100 and 130 employees, will begin in August. Jansen anticipates a total of more than 300 jobs will be created by the plant’s first phase, with 123 new posts at Blue Diamond suppliers and 79 jobs created in the general Turlock community as a result of increased local spending.

And soon, the plant will expand further with a second phase devoted to oil roasting, dry roasting, coating, and packaging whole almonds – the type of work currently performed at Blue Diamond’s Sacramento facility.

Construction on the second phase was originally planned to begin in 2015, but the almond industry’s explosive growth has accelerated the timeline. The second phase will go before the Blue Diamond Board of Directors in September for approval, Lish said, with an expectation the facility will be operational in 2015.

“It’s our intent to rapidly get into construction on the second phase,” Lish said.

The second phase will add another “couple hundred thousand” square feet, Lish said. With the expansion will come scores of new jobs – far more than the first phase will employ.

“The job count will be considerably higher,” Lish said. “I think I can confidently say that.”

Blue Diamond’s new facility sits on 88 acres in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park, situated alongside Washington Road and stretching between Fulkerth Road and West Main Street. Should future operations require even more room, Lish said that Blue Diamond has rights of first refusal on a further 50 acres in the area.

The Turlock Regional Industrial Park’s shovel-ready ground has been ceaselessly lauded by Blue Diamond executives for making the project possible on such a tight timeline. Constructing such a large development in just 14 months – on time and under budget – is almost unheard of.

Lish said Blue Diamond looked at 39 different sites before selecting Turlock as the home of the new factory. In some instances, the amenities available in Turlock seemed almost unbelievable, he said. And during the due diligence process, Turlock turned around permits that were expected to take four to six weeks in just three to four weeks.

Turlock Mayor John Lazar credited former Mayor Curt Andre, and former councils, for making a multimillion dollar investment in the Turlock Regional Industrial Park.

“If it wasn’t for the vision of the city leaders back in the 90s, we wouldn’t be here today,” Lazar said.

And the Turlock Regional Industrial Park’s future could be brighter yet. Lish said Blue Diamond has been recommending the park to anyone they come across – including several affiliated companies.

“We have some major vendors that are eyeing this event very carefully,” Lish said.

Tuesday’s grand opening drew more than 300 attendees, including California Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross, California State Assemblywoman Kristen Olsen (R-Modesto), the Turlock City Council, and three Stanislaus County Supervisors – all of them almond growers. U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) – a Blue Diamond grower – was unable to be in attendance, but sent a representative with a certificate of Blue Diamond’s achievements, read into the Congressional Record.

And Jansen had something for Turlock, as well. The Blue Diamond CEO announced that Blue Diamond has made a commitment to the Turlock community, and will provide funding to several local organizations: Jessica’s House for grieving families, the Turlock Educational Foundation, the California State University Stanislaus Promise Scholars program, Camp Taylor for children with heart disease, Turlock Parks and Recreation program scholarships, and the Turlock PAL Summer Camp at the Marty Yerby Center.

The partnership is just one sign of the many positive effects Blue Diamond Growers will have on Turlock, Lazar said. And the best could be yet to come.

“I see great things,” Lazar said. “I see more economic development, more jobs, more opportunity for our young people. … This renaissance in Turlock is exciting for us.”

Interested persons can apply for employment online at www.bluediamondturlock.com.


Blue Diamond Growers ribbon cutting ceremony. 06-18-13 Photo: Alex Cantatore


Lee Ruth Inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

Former Ag Council President Lee Ruth, Cooperative Hall of Fame 2013 inductee

Congratulations to former Ag Council President Lee Ruth on being inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on May 8, 2013.  Ag Council President Emily Rooney attended the event, which is administered by the Cooperative Development Foundation to honor those who have made extraordinary contributions to the cooperative community.Lee Ruth devoted some 30 years to Ag Council where he concentrated on legislative and other strategies to boost cooperatives and promote their development.
Among his many accomplishments, he helped establish the Center for Cooperatives at the University of California, Davis, and the California Center for Cooperative Development.  In addition, his work as Co-chair of the national Rural Cooperative Development Task Force was influential in creating the Rural Cooperative Development Grant at USDA.

Lee Ruth was a key player in developing legislation favorable to electric cooperatives in California during the deregulation of utilities.  His international work includes the creation of and support for farmer cooperatives in Lithuania.

Ag Council applauds Lee Ruth for his induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.  This honor is well-deserved given his life-long commitment and dedicated leadership in the cooperative arena.

Watch this YouTube video to learn more about Lee Ruth’s accomplishments.

Bayer CropScience Breaks Ground On North American Bee Care Center

May 29, 2013

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. (May 29, 2013) – As part of its continued commitment to honey bee health, today Bayer CropScience broke ground on its North American Bee Care Center, a recognition of the importance of these pollinators to agriculture. Senior company managers, bee health experts and representatives from the community were on hand to begin work on the new facility, approximately a 6,000-square-foot state-of-the-art building which will complement an existing Bee Care Center that was established last year at the company’s global headquarters in Monheim, Germany.

Housed in the Bee Care Center will be a full laboratory and teaching apiary; honey extraction and workshop space; interactive learning center; and meeting, training and presentation facilities for beekeepers, farmers and educators, as well as office space for graduate students. Although the North American Bee Care Center will have its own honey bee colonies for teaching and demonstration purposes, the facility will be supported by other research apiaries, located nearby the Research Triangle Park area, to coordinate and extend research projects directed toward bee health.

The Bee Care Center, a hub to promote worldwide bee health initiatives, will serve to support scientific research and help educate stakeholders and the general public about the importance of honey bees to agriculture by providing pollination of crops that help meet the growing global demand for a nutritious and abundant food supply. In order to address food challenge issues, the Center will bring together significant technological, scientific and academic resources to protect and improve honey bee health and sustainable agriculture.

In its recent comprehensive assessment on honey bee health, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) noted that bees are suffering from a complex set of stressors, including parasites and diseases, lack of genetic diversity, and inadequate nutrition, while stressing the need for collaboration and information sharing among all stakeholders as a critical component in promoting best management practices. The North American Bee Care Center is being created with these goals in mind.Bayer CropScience is also expanding its Clayton research apiary, known as “Beesboro,” to include an approximately 1,200-square-foot building with an office, a wintering cold room, extraction area, bee hive maintenance area and storage areas. This facility expected to be operational in late summer 2013.

“At Bayer, we have been committed to bee health for more than 25 years,” said Jim Blome, President and CEO of Bayer CropScience LP. “The Bee Care Center is the latest example of our dedication to sustainable agriculture, and we hope to continue to provide the research necessary to ensure the health of colonies and honey bees around the world. Our scientists are working to help solve some of the most pressing honey bee health problems, as their importance to the global food supply cannot be overstated.”

Additionally, the Bee Care Center will be a highly sustainable facility, which will help Bayer CropScience reduce its carbon footprint in an effort to promote corporate environmental stewardship. For more information on the North American Bee Care Center and Bayer CropScience’s commitment to honeybee health, visit http://www.bayercropscience.us/our-commitment/bee-health.

Pacific Coast Producers Explains Impact of Cap and Trade on their Business

Dan Morain: Will jobs be lost with cap and trade?
Published: Sunday, Aug. 19, 2012

California is scheduled to begin auctioning carbon credits, or allowances, in November under its cap and trade program, which was set up to help achieve the state’s landmark legislation to combat climate change. Business interests believe it will lead to some businesses leaving the state, other say it will help reduce greenhouse gases. Should the state proceed with its cap and trade program?

Extraordinarily smart people at the California Air Resources Board have taken to using the term “leakage” as they go about devising the experimental cap and trade system for reducing greenhouse gases.

Homer Perez, head boiler mechanic at Pacific Coast Producers’ tomato cannery off East Main Street in Woodland, might use a word that is more familiar to the rest of us: “layoff.”

The cannery has been operating under one owner or another since the 1920s. A cooperative of 16 growers in Yolo, Solano and Sutter counties owns it now. Perez has worked there for 28 of the past 29 years. He and his wife have raised two sons and a daughter.

PCP Woodland workers sorting tomatoes.

“I’m lucky to have a good job with this economy,” Perez said, sitting in the control room where he monitors four massive boilers that drive the cannery where 1,200 people work.

In the world’s richest tomato-growing region, at the height of harvest, Perez’s job is secure for now. But that’s subject to change. Or leakage. In air board parlance, leakage refers to the possibility that a job or business might leave the state. Leakage would be collateral damage as California embarks on cap and trade, by which polluters buy and sell credits to offset emissions in auctions set to begin in November. The board believes the cannery is at medium risk for leakage.

Sen. Roderick Wright, a Los Angeles-area Democrat, held a hearing last week on leakage, and left no doubt that he thinks California will leak jobs as the air board leads us on the bold new adventure. Cap and trade will add costs and complications, and business will close or cut production. He has seen it before. In his youth, Southern California factories produced tires, cars, jets and steel. Little remains.

Richard Corey, a top official at the air board, testified that the board’s goal is to minimize economic dislocation as it combats climate change.

“Six full-scale analyses have been conducted and found that the cap and trade program will have nearly imperceptible impact on the California economy as it continues to grow to 2020,” Corey said.

Perceptions about impacts can vary, however. Economists seem able to find lucrative consulting contracts. The 1,200 union workers at Pacific Coast Producers might endure a more perceptible impact if the full-scale economic analyses happen to be flawed.

About 600 polluters fall under cap and trade. Some are obvious, like refineries. But there also are 37 food processers, including 17 tomato canneries. All but three of the 37 are in the Central Valley, where the air is notoriously bad and where joblessness far exceeds state and national averages.

Food processors account for about 1.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. That’s 0.4 percent of the 457 million tons emitted by all California sources in 2009 and 2 percent of the 81 million tons emitted from industrial sources.

Underscoring the uncertainty of it all, the cost of cap and trade depends on who’s doing the figuring. Air board spokesman Stanley Young said Pacific Coast would spend about $60,000 in the first two years to comply with cap and trade.

Pacific Coast attorney Mona Shulman said the cost would be twice that, easy. By 2020, she said, the cannery will have spent a total of at least $1.4 million to comply. In addition to buying “allowances,” the air board’s term for the commodity that will be auctioned, the co-op will need to pay employees to track emissions and pay brokers who trade the allowances. We’ll all pay when the costs are passed along.

“The market for canned tomatoes and tomato paste is a national and global market, and pennies and dimes make a big difference,” Shulman said.

Frank Muller is a tomato grower in Yolo County and chairman of Pacific Coast Producers. A lifelong farmer who is the son and grandson of farmers, Muller understands the vagaries of weather, pests, water, mechanical harvesters and labor supply. He complies with worker safety, wastewater and air emission rules.

In his office, he thumbs though a manual detailing the steps he must follow to comply with one of his customer’s demands that he practice sustainable agriculture. Safeway, Sysco, Wal-Mart and other customers audit the cannery to make sure it complies with quality standards.

He can handle all that. But he knows nothing about auctions, especially not those in which traders from Goldman Sachs and other sharp operators are involved.

“We don’t have a trading desk,” Muller said.

Muller led me on a tour of the cannery one day last week. He figured 306 truckloads would arrive that day. Roughly 80 percent of the tomatoes are grown within a 15-mile radius of Pacific Coast Producers.

That’s an important point. Growers use far less diesel fuel to truck tomatoes from a Yolo County field to the Woodland cannery than if the packing plant were across a state line in, say, Nevada. And imagine the amount of fuel used to ship tomatoes across the Pacific Ocean from China, a growing presence in the processed tomato business.

Once at the cannery, tomatoes flow down water slides and on merry-go-rounds of conveyers, past laser guided graders that sort green from red, and through steam baths that remove the tough skins of processing tomatoes.

PCP employee monitors the heat in the boiler control room.

Some are sliced. Others are left whole. Teamsters, 400 per shift, eyeball the bounty, discarding what isn’t up to standard. A tomato picked at 6 a.m. will be in a can by 10 a.m. The cannery produces 500 million cans a year. Each is heated to 195 degrees for 16 minutes to kill bacteria, cooled and labeled with store brands that use Pacific Coast tomatoes.

It all takes energy, and that’s where Perez comes in.

Muller stopped by Perez’s office and asked about Perez’s kids. They’re all doing well. One just graduated from Temple University. Another works at the cannery while he pursues his degree.

Perez’s father worked in a cannery in Davis that closed two decades ago. Perez himself knows what it’s like to lose a job. A previous owner, Del Monte, closed the Woodland cannery in 2000.

“You leave the front gates and look in the rear mirror, and you wonder what is next,” Perez said.

As his severance pay disappeared, he took a lower-paying job. Then he got a call from Pacific Coast, which needed someone who could operate the boiler.

From the control room, Perez monitors computers that gauge water temperature, 224 degrees, in four huge boilers. Perez showed me the window through which you can see the fire that heats the water.

“Everyone likes to see the flame,” he said.

The flame is alluring. It’s also what concerns air regulators. The co-op has cut emissions over the years. But rules of nature apply. Perez needs to fire the boilers to produce the steam that processes tomatoes that we all eat.

He sees the need to reduce air pollution. What parent doesn’t? But he’s also concerned about jobs. Having been without one, he understands the hard meaning of “layoff.” Or, as an economist with a theory might say, leakage.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee.  All rights reserved.

Land O’Lakes Gives Back During the Holidays

Ag Council applauds its member, Land O’Lakes, for giving back to the San Joaquin Valley community during the holidays by recently donating milk to local food banks to help families in need fight hunger.

Land O’Lakes joined with the California Association of Food Banks and Producers Dairy Foods, Inc. to distribute 12,000 one-half gallon cartons of milk to the Community Food Bank of Fresno, Food Link of Tulare County and the Community Action Partnership of Kern Food Bank for distribution to disadvantaged families in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare Counties.

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary, Karen Ross, said, “This is a great example of California dairy producers working together to improve food access for our neediest citizens. We will work to support and facilitate many more opportunities like this in the future.”

Ag Council recognizes and thanks Land O’Lakes, and its farmer-owners, for serving the San Joaquin Valley community by donating nutritious milk to families in need.

Ag Council knows many of our members make a difference in people’s lives through donations, and we’d like to say “thank you” to those providing healthy products to people in need both locally and throughout the world.



Ag Council Congratulates Members Honored with Awards

Two Ag Council members were honored by the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce. Jon Marthedal was named 2011 Agriculturalist of the Year and Allied Grape Growers was named 2011 Ag Business of the Year by the Chamber. The awards recognize leadership and contributions to agriculture and the community.

Marthedal is Ag Council’s Chairman and a third generation farmer who grows raisin and table grapes, as well as blueberries in Fresno County. Marthedal is also Chairman of Sun-Maid Growers, which is a longstanding member of Ag Council, and he is Chairman of the California Blueberry Commission.

Allied Grape Growers, led by President Nat DiBuduo, was selected as Ag Business of the Year. Allied Grape Growers is a winegrape marketing cooperative with close to 600 farmer-members in California. DiBuduo is a member of Ag Council’s board.

The Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce held an awards lunch in Fresno to honor the recipients. Ag Council President, Emily Rooney, and, Directore of Government Affairs, Tricia Geringer, attended the event along with hundreds of other attendees.

Ag Council commends both award recipients and acknowledges their strong leadership and dedication to agriculture.