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Dannion Cunning

Dan-CunningDannion Cunning
Chief Executive Officer
Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau

What we do: We are the primary destination marketing organization for Madera County.

Fresno County’s lettuce crop in dire straits

Fresno County farmers slashed their head lettuce production by about 50 percent this fall after previous seasons of reduced water supplies and lettuce disease problems.
Fred Rinder, deputy Fresno County agricultural commissioner, said that what had been a $40 million spring lettuce crop is now about a $28 million crop. That has a significant impact on the county economy, he said.

In addition, fall lettuce acreage has plummeted. According to early estimates, it will go from 8,200 acres in 2012 to 4,400 acres for 2013, Rinder said.
And if the Westside area receives a zero water allocation from the state, we will likely see a 70-percent drop in spring lettuce acreage, he said. As of 2012, spring lettuce acreage stood at 5,780 acres.
“We anticipate a big hit,” Rinder said.
He pointed out that as the Westside crops decline, so will local jobs and wages. For the county, it means a reduction in tax revenue.
“We will take a big hit in 2014,” Rinder said. “There will be a loss in gross product. And there will be a loss of economic activity in the county.”
Rinder added that along with the problem of declining water supplies, farmers have dealt with tomato spotted wilt virus, a disease that starts on tomatoes, but works its way to lettuce.
Most of the lettuce crop is grown in and around Huron, which has been a major transition-season production area for lettuce, filling the gap between the summer Salinas crop and winter desert crop. Most of the lettuce heads are wrapped and shipped whole.
Some of the crop is shredded for bagged salad production.
Mark Borba, co-owner of Borba Farms in Huron, said he has seen some major growers, including D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California in Salinas, leave the Huron lettuce deal.
Harris Farms had grown lettuce for Taylor Farms in Salinas, but Harris decided to halt its production of row crops. Now Borba Farms grows lettuce for Taylor Farms.
Borba Farms, which had grown lettuce on 1,000 acres in spring and fall, now grows about 340 acres in spring and fall.
Borba said he has seen the Huron season cut from five to six weeks in the spring and fall to 14 to 20 days. Some growers quit altogether and moved their operations to other locations because their customers insist on a steady supply in the spring and fall, Borba said.
“Customers don’t want to hear you say we don’t have (lettuce),” he said.
Some companies are now growing spring and fall lettuce crops in Mexico and Florida, Borba said.
He said that as major lettuce growers leave Huron, jobs sorely needed in the area dry up.
Major lettuce growers have traditionally harvested Huron lettuce from March through April and from October through November, keeping the economy bustling through those periods.
But over the past four years, water supplies for farmers in the area have been significantly reduced, resulting in a shortening of the Huron season for the growers who remain there.
Huron has been a valuable gap-filler for growers because the weather tends to be ideal there for lettuces during the spring and early fall.
Now the Salinas lettuce season starts earlier in the spring, while the desert crop is stretched to cover more of the fall and winter.
The largest driver of the change is water. “The Westside has half as much water as it did last year at the same time,” said Ryan Jacobsen, CEO and executive director of Fresno County Farm Bureau. “And it is facing zero allocation for next year.”
Jacobsen said that growers must plan their crops months ahead and they are planning for another dry year.
“It is not good for the county,” Jacobsen said, regarding big cuts in water availability. “But it’s an indicator of things to come.”
Besides lettuce, growers are expected to reduce acreage for onions, tomatoes, garlic and cotton as water supplies dry up.
With lettuce and other ground crops on the decline, Fresno County could lose its standing as the top agricultural county in the nation in 2015, Jacobsen said.
“Our demands for water need to be met,” he said.
Jacobsen and others in the local farm industry believe that Valley lettuce is too important to ignore its demise.
Head lettuce decreased in total value in 2012 by $21,746,000 or 24.63 percent despite a slight increase in acreage due to lower overall yields accompanied by a lower price per ton received. Leaf lettuce showed an increase in total value of 72.19 percent due to an increase in production per acre along with an increase in the price per ton.
In 2012 Fresno County head lettuce had a gross value of $66.5 million, compared to $88.3 million the previous year.

Calf abuse video renews talk of so-called ‘ag-gag’ bills

An undercover video released Nov. 13 by Compassion Over Killing, a national animal rights organization, raises questions about what level of oversight is needed to help protect farm animals from abuse.
At the same time, some ranchers believe that the act of accepting a job at a dairy cow or cattle ranch for the sake of producing an undercover video is a practice that needs rules. Some states have gone a step farther and created so-called ag-gag laws that prohibit such undercover work.

Good problem to have: Madera awash in manufacturing activity

Anyone following the growth of manufacturing over the last year can point to places like Madera County to explain the trend.
The county has always counted industry as its strongest economic asset, but lately, the sector has been thriving beyond capacity, something local officials say is a good problem to have.

Tribe offers $5M for golf course

The City of Lemoore has received an offer of $5 million to buy its 217-acre municipal golf course. The offer will be discussed this week at a study session and city council meeting, said Joe Simonson, parks and recreation director.  
The offer from the Tachi Yokut tribe includes an appraisal that values the course at $3 million. The city staff report says some $3.5 million in total debt is on the books as of now.
Simonson said the Tachi tribe has “guaranteed the property would remain a golf course” and that that they hope to utilize the course for visitors to the Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino located a few country blocks away.
Concerns by the public include whether the course would remain affordable to seniors, says the report.
Besides this offer to purchase, the staff memo says the city has also received an offer to lease the course from its current operator Rhoads Golf LLC.
On Nov. 19 during closed session, the Lemoore City Council directed staff to call two public meetings to allow for further discussion prior to bringing this item for action. These meetings are to collect as much information concerning reasons to sell or not to sell the golf course so that the public and council will have as much information as possible prior to making the decision..

Navy to buy 53 acres
Home developer Pharris Lemoore LLC plans to deed 53 acres near West Hills College in Lemoore to the US Navy. It would add a conservation easement to the site to prohibit further development, but would allow the land to be used by West Hills College.
A city public hearing this month would change the zoning on the property west of Highway 41. The change in plans comes after the Navy objected to a new subdivision plan on a tentative map for Victory Village, approved in 2006, because of the potential of future complaints from residents impacted by jets at the nearby Naval Air Station Lemoore base. The site is close to the landing and takeoff area with new louder jets expected to be based here.
Only one phase of the new home subdivision has been developed and the action would prohibit more phases. The land will be used by the college for storm drainage, agriculture and recreation.

In-N-Out ready
With construction nearly complete, Hanford residents will be flocking to hamburger maker In-N-Out — first for a job with interviews scheduled December 10th & 11th at Visalia’s Holiday Inn; Then probably later this month to finally dig into a “Double Double,” animal style.

Firm objects to Costco
Public comment over the proposed 58-acre Costco development at Highways 43 and 198 in Hanford has been received with one of the more vocal complaints from nearby ag company Helena Chemical.
The company has a location on East Lacey Boulevard that it purchased in 2011 and fears traffic impacts for its trucks coming in and out of the plant. At one point in the past few months, the city and Helena were talking about a new location.
City Manager Darrel Pyle said the city staff would be responding to all comments as part of the final environmental impact report process at a planning commission meeting later this month. Pyle estimates that the final EIR could be before the city council in January, with construction of the new Costco-anchored shopping center following soon. The huge retailer and mighty sales tax generator is expected to open later in 2014.
The plan calls for a commercial building area of 499,000 square feet to be constructed in four phases based on market demand. A first phase of 275,000 square feet is planned to consist of a discount club between 130,000-150-000 square feet including a fueling center; approximately 95,000 square feet of anchor retail; 6,500 square feet of fast-food restaurant; 5,000 square feet of sit-down restaurants and other pads of 9,500 and 4,000 square feet. Later phases include up to 200 apartments and 32,000 square feet of commercial businesses.
Fresno developer Ed Kashian is behind the project.

New solar
A 3-megawatt solar generation facility will be built by Immodo near the Hanford airport to include the installation of approximately 16,700 to 23,750 solar modules, said an environmental report for the project.
The power would connect to the existing Southern California Edison distribution line that runs north along Orchard Drive and ultimately connects to the Hanford Substation.

UFW contract ratified, but Gerawan still in gray area

The Agriculture Labor Relations Board recently approved a mediator’s report for a collective bargaining agreement between the United Farm Workers and Gerawan Farming.
However, it cannot currently be enforced.
The complex legal struggle between the union and Gerawan Farming, which opposes union representation, has left the outcome of the collective bargaining agreement in a state of limbo.
And it could take months to resolve.

Time running out on Enterprise Zones

Mad hiring dash to benefit from program

As the nearly 30-year California Enterprise Zone program comes to an end this month, Valley economic development officials welcome the bump in hiring as companies rush to take advantage of the fleeting tax benefits — some for the first time.

Ed Dena

Ed-DenaEd Dena
Ed Dena’s Auto Center, Dinuba

EDUCATION: Tulare Western High School; Never stepped foot on a college campus

AGE: 50

FAMILY: Wife, Ida, and two grown daughters

WEBSITE: www.eddenasautocenter.com

What first sparked your interest in the auto industry?
My wife and I were dating in high school and her brother was working as a car salesman. He convinced me to give selling cars a try. So I began in Oxnard at a Chevrolet dealership. I met my first customer on the lot and sold him a car. My first month, I was the top salesman. I fell in love with the business instantly. All my life I had been selling stuff, I sold furniture in high school. Cars were fun to sell. I loved what I was doing.

Navigating Obamacare’s latest developments

There has been a lot of news on the rollout of the Affordable Care Act health exchanges on Oct. 1. Here is a digest of some of the most important deadlines and events facing small business owners.

The federal health care exchange online rollout has proven to be near disastrous, and the law has been beset with delays. While the latest delay pushes the official launch of the federal Small Business Health Options (SHOP) website to November 2014, California’s small business online exchange for employers fired up Monday.

Covered California opens call center

Covered California officially opened its Fresno service center Wednesday with 150 representatives already handling calls for the health insurance exchange set up as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Located at the 7201 N. Palm Ave., the office is occupying the 570,000 square-foot northwest Fresno office building that was filled by Bank of America’s call center until the company vacated in July.
Speaking at the opening, Covered California Executive Director Peter Lee said 150 representatives started taking calls there on Monday while as many as 280 will be hired by the end of December.
Together with call centers already set up and running in Rancho Cordova and Contra Costa County, Covered California has nearly 500 representatives answering questions and helping people and businesses sign up with one of 11 carriers offering health insurance through the exchange.