Weekly Issues

Rail slowed, but other projects revving

High-speed rail remained the great new hope for transportation in the Valley this year — for some.
Others grew leery over the cost and intrusion of the 520-mile project meant to link the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

Despite threats, profitable year abounds

Nut and grape growers enjoyed another prosperous year in 2013, but a mostly dry season and reduced water supplies posed a serious threat to agricultural production, especially on the Valley’s Westside.
For orange growers — apart from a December freeze scare — the main threat was a pest called Asian citrus psyllid, which were found in Dinuba and other locations in Tulare County. The psyllid spreads a deadly citrus tree disease called huanglongbing.

Tulare hospital gets boost, fiscal woes

Tulare Regional Medical Center recently got a boost in court and potentially in operations as it moves into 2013, but financial troubles linger.

A federal judge last week denied a request by Fresno-based Harris Construction to impose an injunction against Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC), a necessary action, claims the contractor, because the hospital has failed to pay it $9.7 million owed.

A sketchy debut

Health care may be the industry that saw the most change in 2013, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
In what is widely regarded as a botched debut, Oct. 1 marked the first day that individuals could purchase health coverage through online exchanges. The performance of the federal site HealthCare.gov was widely panned. California’s exchange, Covered California, also debuted on that day, and has not been immune to people criticizing its technical performance, including insurance agents frustrated while trying to help customers.

Most expensive home sold for $2.8M in Clovis

Continued economic growth in 2013 led to more luxury million-dollar-plus homes being sold in the Central Valley.
This year three homes sold for more than $2 million and one just missed at $1.93 million, according to The Business Journal’s annual list of Most Expensive Home Sales (page 10).

Growing sales prompt milk investment

With the world in economic recovery, Tulare County dairymen are finally getting some relief on improved milk prices. Meanwhile, demand for milk from the nation’s No. 1 dairy county is surprisingly strong.
This month, the US Department of Agriculture said dairy exports were up 52 percent in October, with butter exports up 137 percent.

Sanger efforts bear fruit, save money, draw business

A positive evaluation of its municipal construction bond represents more than just a good credit rating for Sanger, a city once plagued by financial problems and difficulty attracting businesses.

For whom the horn tolls

Latest deadline looms for state diesel truck rule

The state’s truck emissions rule takes effect for thousands of diesel engines beginning next year, a wake-up call to some trucking companies still seeking compliance funding.
As part of the California Air Resources Board’s Truck and Bus Rule, heavier trucks with 2005 or newer model year engines will be swept in on Jan. 1, requiring them to be retrofitted with particulate matter filters or else replaced with a 2010 vehicle.

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.