UC Davis unveils plans for new agricultural research ‘hub’ funded by $50 million gift

The University of California, Davis, will build a $40 million agricultural innovation center later this decade, a “transformative” expansion to the school’s food science and sustainability programs, after the university on Thursday announced its largest gift ever bestowed by individual donors.

Billionaire philanthropists Lynda and Stewart Resnick are giving $50 million to UC Davis: $40 million toward the Lynda and Stewart Resnick Center for Agricultural Innovation, a 40,000-square-foot, LEED-certified “hub” that will include classrooms and research space; plus $10 million for competitive research grants in the field of agriculture. “This gift will extend our efforts to lead field-level research, analyze big data, rapidly breed plant varieties that can adapt to our changing climate and fine-tune existing crop varieties,” UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May said at an event Thursday morning, unveiling the donation at the Mondavi Center.  “We’ll do this by educating and training these future generations to help us meet the demands for feeding communities in a swiftly changing environment.”

University leaders said the innovation center will focus on five main research areas: solutions for agricultural byproducts; water and energy efficiency; technology development; crop resiliency and sustainability in the face of climate change; and expanding access to nutritious food. “It will serve as an anchor for new ideas, bringing together experts from across disciplines at UC Davis to focus research on California’s iconic specialty crops, such as pistachios, almonds and pomegranates,” the chancellor said.

To that end, the Beverly Hills-based Resnicks are founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, which produces pomegranates, pistachios and more. Stewart and Lynda Resnick are among the most successful and powerful agribusiness tycoons in California. “We share a passion for progress at the intersection of agriculture, science and sustainability,” Andy Anzaldo, the Wonderful Co. chief operating officer of philanthropy, said Thursday.

Anzaldo spoke on behalf of the Resnicks, who had been slated to appear at Thursday’s announcement but were unable to make it after President Joe Biden’s arrival in Los Angeles disrupted air traffic, delaying flights out of Southern California. “Working together through research and its practical application in our fields, we are racing to make crops more productive, using fewer resources and feeding the world,” Anzaldo said. “That’s one of the reasons why I’m proud this new center will be the hub for the best researchers in the world to help agriculture be part of the solution.”

Design for what May called a “cutting-edge” research center will begin later this year with construction estimated to be complete by 2026. It will be built near the school’s current plant sciences building. The Resnicks’ donation comes amid the university’s “Expect Greater” initiative – a fundraising campaign launched in 2020 aiming to raise at least $2 billion toward “student support, health, climate change and more” by 2024. UC Davis is on track to exceed that goal, already past $1.7 billion after raising $323 million during the 2021-22 fiscal year. Founders of the Wonderful Co. food empire, Forbes magazine estimates the Resnicks’ net worth at $8 billion.

Through their farming operations, the couple is also one of the largest consumers of water in California, if not the largest. Forbes has estimated that the Wonderful farms, which sprawl across thousands of acres in the southern San Joaquin Valley, use as much water in a year as the city of San Francisco consumes in a decade. The UC Davis donation is not the Resnicks’ first major gift to a California higher-ed campus. Caltech recently broke ground on an environmental sustainability research center bankrolled by a $750 million pledge from the couple. Stewart Resnick is also a member of the UC Davis Chancellor’s Board of Advisors, a group of nearly two dozen influential figures including Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive.


Central Valley Ag launches 2023 Scholarship Program

YORK — Central Valley Ag (CVA) launches its annual scholarship program for students pursuing higher education in an agriculturally related field. CVA will award 20 $1,000 scholarships.

“CVA is committed to improving, encouraging and enabling the healthy development of youth throughout the region,” said Chad Carlson, SVP of Talent at CVA. “And by helping our youth pursue their agricultural career, we ensure that the agricultural industry continues to grow.”

This scholarship program enables youth to continue their education on a collegiate level. Based on academic achievement, service to local communities, and knowledge of the cooperative system, the CVA Scholarship Committee will select the winners of each scholarship.


Central Valley agricultural industry gets a boost from federal grants

The Central Valley has received two federal grants designed to strengthen the agricultural industry through technological innovation and expanding equitable job opportunities. The Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition received $65 million through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “Build Back Better” Regional Challenge. The Central Valley Community Foundation, which leads the coalition, plans to use the funding to strengthen agricultural workers’ skillsets in utilizing new technologies. “As technology evolves, California has the opportunity to lead the world in innovative strategies to allow us to help feed the hungry world,” state Sen. Anna Caballero said during a press conference Friday morning in downtown Fresno. “But agricultural jobs must change, and the jobs that farmworkers do must as well.”

The Economic Development Administration also granted $23 million granted to the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation to expand equitable job opportunities across underserved populations and communities through its “Good Jobs” Challenge. The Valley is the only region in the country to receive both grants. “This is a great day for the great Central Valley,” Congressman Jim Costa says. “For all too long, we have been overlooked. But not anymore.” A portion of the funding will support agricultural education through a partnership between UC Merced, Fresno State and various community colleges. The grants are expected to reach the community by the end of the year.

Additionally, the Central Valley Community Foundation plans to renovate the Bank of Italy building in downtown Fresno to host a new headquarters for the F3 initiative. “There needs to be a dedicated spot on the globe where you can point to and say, ‘that’s where they’re figuring out how to grow food sustainably,’” says Ashley Swearengin, the president and CEO of the foundation. Swearengin says grant funds will not be used for the renovations.


Kern Community College District unveils California Renewable Energy Laboratory

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Local officials and educators celebrated Wednesday the creation of the California Renewable Energy Laboratory. The facility is made possible through $50 million in state funding, which Assemblymember Rudy Salas says he secured in the latest budget. Local educators say the facility will put the Kern Community College District in a position to lead the way in terms of technology development and workforce training. The energy lab’s purpose, in part, is to develop a framework to keep cutting edge, high paying jobs in Kern County. The facility will include centers of excellence for carbon management, microgrid technology and clean transportation.


How ‘solar canals’ could help California reach sustainable energy goals

TURLOCK, Calif. — Amid intense heat waves that strained the California energy system this month, attention has been placed on efforts to build on renewable energy in the country’s most populous state. At the state level, California is gradually taking steps to run on carbon-free electricity by 2045, and legislation pushing for that calls on retail and state-run electricity sold to come from renewable sources. The transition has reached the automotive industry, with recent legislation pushing for more electric vehicles to be sold and the slow phasing out of sales of gasoline-powered cars. Large investments in clean energy infrastructure will be needed to meet California’s renewable energy goals, but some, like the state’s oldest irrigation district, are getting creative in how to get there. Irrigation districts are tasked with the distribution and management of water that has beneficial uses like agriculture or drinking.

Last year, a study published in Nature Sustainability by researchers from University of California at Santa Cruz along with UC Merced found that it may be possible to tap into the network of public water delivery canals as a way to both conserve water and advance the state’s renewable energy efforts. The researchers studied the concept of “solar canals,” which includes assembling a canopy of solar panels to prevent evaporation while also generating electric energy. The idea is being put to the test in an experiment called Project Nexus. Brandi McKuin, the lead researcher on the study and current assistant project scientist at UC Merced, said the amount of evaporation from canals in California varies by location and time of year. Placing solar panels over the water channels would not only help reduce a percentage of evaporation, but could also boost energy production, she said, since water cools slower than land.

For now, Project Nexus is starting small and is mainly a test of whether the research can hold true in practice, McKuin said. But the project views the state’s canals as a gold mine for not just energy, but information that can inform future energy projects. Those involved are going in with more questions than answers. The research suggests that covering all of California’s canals – spanning roughly 4,000 miles – with solar panels could save up to 63 billion gallons of water and generate 13 gigawatts of renewable power annually. One gigawatt is equal to the energy consumption of 100 million LEDs, or as others put it, enough to power 750,000 homes.

Other benefits include reducing weed growth in the canals and replacing diesel-powered irrigation pumps with solar-powered engines, which lessens the impact on air quality from nitrogen oxide and tiny particulate matter given off by the diesel pumps. While the solar canal idea is new for the region, it’s a sign that “out-of-the-box” ideas are worth exploring to meet the state’s renewable energy capacity, McKuin said. But she said more research is needed, as well as policy, to drive new types of solutions. “There isn’t a single silver bullet solution to our water crisis,” McKuin told the PBS NewsHour. “California is facing a challenging water future, and it’s our job as researchers to find solutions wherever we can, and solar canals is just one of the solutions that can contribute to drought resilience for the state.” The project has a $20 million backing in the state’s current budget, and construction is expected to be completed in 2023.

Eye on local, statewide benefits

The idea of solar canals struck a chord with the Turlock Irrigation District, which operates about 90 miles north of Fresno. The agency provides both water and electricity – a rare operation in the state. mMost irrigation districts just deliver seasonal water to farms and communities, but the Turlock Irrigation District is one of eight “electric balancing authorities” in the state, which help maintain “consistent electric frequency” of the grid, according to the California Energy Commission. The Turlock district’s venture into electric utility began in 1923 after the Don Pedro Dam was built at the Don Pedro Reservoir in the foothills east of the city of Turlock, giving the district an opportunity to generate its own electricity. The following year, the district supported more than 3,000 customers with electricity. Today, nearly 250,000 customers are provided electricity by the district.

The largest balancing authority in California is the Independent System Operator, providing 80 percent of the state’s power load. During the heat wave in early September, which brought record triple-digit temperatures to much of the West, the California ISO issued a Flex Alert to cellphones calling on consumers to conserve energy by shutting down appliances in order to avert an energy shortage. mThe Turlock Irrigation District also saw historic energy peaks, but it did not issue similar urgent calls to conserve energy, said Josh Weimer, a spokesperson for the district, mainly because the district has been able to carefully manage its own water and power distribution, as it has always done in its 135-year history.

However, in recent years, the district, like many other agencies, has had to reconsider how much water it is able to deliver to its customers as it faces the increasing challenges of drought and heat. Sustained drought in the West has led to dwindling water supply in recent years, leaving key reservoirs like Lake Mead at historically low levels. The growing uncertainties that come with climate change are hitting in many places and pose tough questions about California’s Sierra Nevada snowpack, where the irrigation district’s water begins to form. Forecasts suggest the Sierra will have less snowpack in coming years due to the effects of greenhouse emissions, and rainstorms have the potential to be wetter than usual. Those events could have effects downstream for communities. “We’re not left out of being impacted by a change in climate and multi-year consecutive drought,” Weimer told the NewsHour.

It’s why the idea of placing solar panels over roughly two miles of its more than 250 miles of canals in the middle of California seemed worth exploring, Weimer said. His district could use more water to grow walnuts, peaches and almonds and feed its dairy industry in addition to examining an idea that could potentially improve the district and state’s energy supply. And though the district will be the first in the nation to jump into the solar canals idea, “it’s worth changing the status quo and how we operate our system because of the potential benefit,” Weimer said. The solar canal study suggests conserving water in the canals could reduce groundwater pumping and lead to fewer deserted fields due to water shortages. Communities in the San Joaquin Valley have routinely dealt with unreliable water supply from drought and over pumping. The state’s Department of Water Resources supports the project, and if the test run at the Turlock Irrigation District is able to produce the intended results, the agency will be a crucial body to extend the project to the state’s water systems. “As California prepares for a possible fourth dry year, the state is excited to examine new ways that will improve water conservation, provide a clean energy resource, and build drought resilience,” Karla Nemeth, director of the Department of Water Resources, said in a statement.

Origins of the idea

Inspiration for placing solar panels over canals came from a similar project in Gujarat, India, in 2014. The developers of Project Nexus and founders of Solar AquaGrid LLC commissioned the study of solar canals with support from Texas-based NRG Energy and Bay Area-based Citizen Group. The India project informed U.S. researchers. Jordan Harris, co-founder and CEO of AquaGrid, said the new solar canals can use 50 percent less raw material than the India project, in addition to allowing for more space around the panels for easy maintenance. Project Nexus will include various solar canopies designed for the shapes and sizes of different canals within the experiment to study the impact of each type of canopy, Harris said.

The Turlock district’s operation as a water and electricity provider gave the founders of AquaGrid extra interest because searching for land to build solar farms can be expensive and difficult. Placing solar panels over existing waterways and property is not only cost-effective but removes the possibility of building on unused land that could negatively impact the environment. Solar farms take up a large area, and sometimes the problem is finding enough space to construct them. “There simply isn’t enough land to build that much solar and wind,” Harris said. “So, the idea of looking at already disturbed space [like] in every rooftop, every parking lot and 4,000 miles of canals and reservoirs, is a huge opportunity to solve problems.”

Ultimately, Harris said he hopes a project like Project Nexus in California’s Central Valley will help reimagine the way people think of canals and other infrastructure in the move toward renewable energy. He added the state’s engineering of thousands of miles of canals that divert water to major cities and industries will have a chance to adapt to the changing climate conditions, if the project were expanded. If California were its own country, it would have the fifth-largest economy in the world, but Harris said such prosperity can’t continue if the environment is ignored. “In our quest to satisfy human needs, we’ve often been irresponsible, and built big cities where there aren’t the natural resources, so we figure out how to bring the resources. I think there’s a way to honor the landscape and the land, and show responsibility and respect, and I think that’s what this type of innovation can do,” Harris said.



Power play: State plans to build emergency power plant in Lodi

After last month’s unprecedented heatwave that caused an hours-long power outage, the City of Lodi and the State of California plan to build a facility to ensure a similar event does not happen again. The Lodi City Council unanimously approved partnering with the state to locate, develop, construct and operate a natural gas power plant during its Wednesday night meeting. The facility would create anywhere between 20 and 48 megawatts of emergency power and be delivered directly into Lodi, rather than be transferred through a third-party system, city manager Steve Schwabauer said. Although Lodi owns and operates its own electric utility, the city’s energy is currently delivered through three PG&E sub-transmission lines.

On the morning Sept. 8, a set of production relays on one of those sub-transmission lines failed at the substation located near Lodi and Guild avenues. Lodi Electric Utility staff replaced the relays almost immediately, but PG&E was required to approve the repairs, which took the entire day. With one relay down, the city said it was required to shed power, and it began implementing one-hour rotating power outages at about 4:40 p.m. that day. The outages lasted 61⁄2 hours.

On Wednesday, Schwabauer told the council that staff and PG&E are currently discussing whether the rotating blackouts were an appropriate solution to the equipment failure. “But in the meantime, we are subject to this happening again if another line were to go down,” Schwabauer said. “Electric utility assets are supposed to be constructed to be resilient enough to handle one element going down. In this case, the transmission lines are not able to handle one line going down.” Schwabauer said the new facility, to be funded completely by the state, would only generate power in the event of an emergency, and must be operational by the summer of 2023.

In addition, it would only be needed until about 2028, when PG&E’s Northern San Joaquin 230kV Transmission Project is complete. Formerly known as Northern San Joaquin Power Connect, the 230kV project involves connecting an existing PG&E transmission line into the agency’s Lockeford substation on Kettleman Lane just east of Highway 88. The project also includes building a new overhead transmission line from the Lockeford substation to a new switching station on Thurman Street in Lodi.

A location for the proposed Lodi power plant has not been identified, Schwabauer said, mainly because staff only learned of the project last week at the Northern California Power Agency Annual Conference. “The location question is dependent upon a number of factors,” he said. “It needs to be close to a substation. It needs to be close to a gas line. It needs to be physically possible to get a gas line to it. It needs to be physically possibly to connect electricity to it.”

Taking these factors into consideration, Schwabauer said staff is examining the feasibility of three locations: the existing Industrial Road substation, the substation at Lodi Lake near the water treatment plant and the General Mills facility. “This is a great opportunity for our community not to ever have to experience 6.5 hours of rolling blackouts, (that is) funded by the State of California,” he said. “It will, if it’s constructed, provide some relief to the state of California as well. It has a greater benefit to the state because it creates new (energy) generation.” While the power plant will be funded by the state, Schwabauer said the city will incur about $4 million in costs.

However, he said those costs will be reimbursed by the state to interconnect the power plant into the Lodi Electric Utility system. Other costs the city could potentially incur are land purchases or leasing the site, if the General Mills facility is chosen as the location, he said. “I think this is a wonderful chance for our city to take advantage of this opportunity, that is unprecedented,” Councilman Doug Kuehne said.


These are the crops that California’s most agricultural counties produce

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — The majority of California’s top 10 agricultural counties are all located in one region: the San Joaquin Valley.

The San Joaquin Valley counties that make up the list are Fresno, Kern, Kings, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Tulare counties. (The three remaining counties that make up the valley, which didn’t make the list of top agricultural producers, are Inyo, Madera and Mono counties.) Monterey, Imperial and Ventura counties round out the top 10 agricultural list.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in 2020, Fresno was ranked as the top agricultural county, moving up one spot from 2019 and swapping places with Kern County. Ventura County broke into the top 10 list from the number 11 spot. Half of the counties in the top 10 have almonds in their lists of leading commodities. Other crops that appear more than once include grapes, pistachios and lettuce. In order of their rank for 2020, these are the commodities that each county grows and that helped put them ahead of other spots in California.

  • Fresno: almonds, pistachios, poultry (unspecified) and grapes (table).
  • Kern: grapes (table), almonds, pistachios, tangerines, and mandarins
  • Tulare: milk, oranges (navel), cattle and calves and grapes (table)
  • Monterey: strawberries, lettuce (romaine), lettuce (head) and broccoli
  • Merced: milk, almonds, chickens (broilers) and sweet potatoes
  • Stanislaus: almonds, milk, chickens (unspecified), cattle and calves
  • San Joaquin: almonds, milk, grapes (wine) and walnuts
  • Kings: milk, pistachios, cattle and calves, and cotton (pima)
  • Imperial: cattle (heifers and steers), vegetables, alfalfa hay and lettuce (leaf)
  • Ventura: strawberries, lemons, avocados and raspberries


Looking for a new job? This California program will pay women to work in construction

State and local officials are doubling down on efforts to support women in California’s central San Joaquin Valley who want to pursue careers in the construction trades. California Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Democrat who represents the Fresno area in California’s 31st district, presented a $3 million check to the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board to support its ValleyBuild construction training programs. The “program that has done such tremendous work” said Arambula during a Wednesday news conference. “Those who are under-employed and unemployed, who have barriers to employment, are given opportunities and a pathway to success.”

Earlier this year, the Workforce Development Board partnered with Tradeswomen Inc. and ValleyBuild — a 14-county collaboration between workforce boards that prepares workers for construction trades — to launch ValleyBuild NOW, or Non-traditional Occupations for Women, a pre-apprenticeship training program for women. The two-month program prepares women for careers in construction and related trades and connects them with employment opportunities. Participants also receive stipends to cover their living expenses and help with transportation and childcare costs.

The first cohort launched in August with a group of 13 women. Recent graduate Sarai Ayala said she learned about the opportunity on Instagram. The 27-year-old Ayala said she was initially in disbelief that the program would pay her to learn. Ayala worked at a local warehouse but said she was looking for something more. “I thought it was crazy,” she said, laughing. Through the training, Ayala said she was able to experiment with different construction career paths. Next week, she starts a new transitional job with the local plumbers and pipefitters. “I’m so grateful,” she said “This type of support doesn’t come around as often as it should.” Another ValleyBuild NOW Fresno cohort is planned for May 2023; a co-ed ValleyBuild training program will start in January 2023. Construction a man’s job? ‘We want to change that’

After nearly 16 years working in animal shelters Crystal Wiggins, 36, knew she needed a career change – but wasn’t sure how to navigate the transition. She already dabbled in things like welding and building cabinets as hobbies, but it wasn’t until a friend saw an advertisement on the ValleyBuild NOW training program that she decided to seriously pursue a career change. The Rosie the Riveter-inspired image caught his eye, said Wiggins. “He stumbled across it on Facebook and saw it and said, ‘this is for Crystal.'”

But Wiggins was on the fence about joining the apprenticeship. “I’m the only person who financially supports my household,” she said. Wiggins has two sons, ages 19 and 11, and cares for her mother, as well. She has three car payments for the three adults and recently purchased her home. “Losing that (stable) paycheck was scary,” she said. But ultimately, she made the decision to make the switch “because of the mileage, because of the stipend.” Women and non-binary individuals make up around 3.5% of active apprentices in the building and construction trades, California Labor Secretary Natalie Palugyai said in a statement on Tuesday. “When we stop to think about why, it’s in large part because construction is widely viewed as a man’s job. We want to change that,” she said.

In addition to the funding for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, the 2022-2023 state budget includes $15 million to support the Women in Construction Priority Program at the Department of Industrial Relations. The state is also accepting proposals for $25 million in funds to support apprenticeship programs that target women, non-binary and underserved populations entering building and construction trades. As for Wiggins, she’s preparing to start her transitional job in sheet metal apprenticeship as she waits to join the union. “I know in the long run, it’s going to be 10 times better,” she said. “This program has been absolutely amazing for me.”

Funding for the training programs comes at a time that the Central Valley region is set to receive billions of dollars in public infrastructure spending, said Blake Konczal, executive director Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, in an interview with The Bee on Tuesday.

According to a report prepared by Applied Development Economics, Inc. for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board, over the next ten years, the Central San Joaquin Valley and its surrounding counties are set to receive over $47 billion dollars in funding for everything from transportation, the High-Speed Rail, buildings, canals, broadband, and more. The study also estimates this funding led to over 41,000 jobs in construction labor, engineering an design in 2021 alone. According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County construction laborers was $55,052. “With all this construction happening in our Valley, if we do not prepare our neighbors to access these jobs,” said Konczal, “workers will be imported from other parts of the state or other parts of the country to do this work.” “The opportunity is there,” he said.



State plans to build a power plant near Modesto to avert rolling outages

The state plans to build a power plant near northeast Modesto to help fend off rolling outages starting next summer. The plant, fueled by natural gas, would kick on when demand threatens to exceed supply around California. It would be built on a Claribel Road site owned by the Modesto Irrigation District. The MID board voted 5-0 on Tuesday for a tentative agreement that would bring $13 million for use of the land over five years. The district eventually could buy the plant at a steep discount to feed its own electricity system. It already has a substation and transmission lines at the site. “Frankly, to get a deal like this on generation is just unprecedented,” said James McFall, assistant general manager for electric resources, just before the vote. The timeline is unusual, too. A new power plant normally takes several years to plan and build. The Claribel plant would be installed by Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based energy company that specializes in quick builds.

It would consist of several engines in a stack that could be turned on as needed, much faster than a conventional plant. The site is on the south side of Claribel, half a mile west of Oakdale Road. DWR plans to spend $2.36 billion on such plants around California, said an email from Ryan Endean, assistant deputy director of communications. The amount for the Claribel project is not yet determined. The program aims to keep PG&E and other utilities from having to impose intentional outages on hot days, as happened in recent years. MID is less vulnerable than many, thanks to its flat terrain and lack of dense forest.

The state would own and run the plant for at least five years, with an option for two more. MID could then acquire it for $15.5 million. The plant would have a capacity of 48 megawatts. MID’s total demand typically is about 650 megawatts on summer days with air conditioners and industries humming. MID could use the Claribel plant for its own emergencies when DWR does not need it during the contract term. District leaders said it would come in handy on days like Sept. 6, when demand surged to a record 760 megawatts amid 113-degree heat. That was 58 megawatts beyond the old record. “Just a month ago, we were a little concerned there,” Director Larry Byrd said. “… A little padding would help.”

DWR has long been in the electricity business, generating it at several dams and consuming it to pump water around the state. It was tasked with the outage prevention effort via Assembly Bill 205, enacted in June. The MID board still has to approve a formal contract with DWR and Enchanted Rock. The tentative terms call for completion by July 31, 2023. Along with the $3 million for use of the site, MID would receive up to $250,000 to cover its costs in integrating the plant into the grid. The district is part of an elaborate network for buying and selling electricity across many states. The state requires utilities to get at least 60% of their power from renewable sources by 2030 and all of it by 2045. That gives MID roughly two decades to use the Claribel plant if it opts to buy it from the state. Enchanted Rock has provided gas-fired plants to utilities and other clients around the nation, Chief Commercial Officer Allan Schurr said by phone. They include hospitals, grocers, computer data centers and others concerned about outages. Last month, the city-owned utility in Lodi launched negotiations for a plant of 20 to 48 megawatts. The location and financial terms have not been set. The City Council acted after a major outage amid the early September heat.




Developers broke ground Tuesday on an almond cold storage facility in Madera open to all growers in hopes of alleviating price pressures on the nut. The owners hope the facility at 2842 N. Golden State Blvd. will be the first of many throughout the Central Valley. A project over seven years in the making, Amond World looks to open by the second quarter of 2023, said Robert Sullivan, managing partner for the company. The company name (“almond” without the “L”) links to a colloquialism of the word “almond” popular in the Central Valley — pronounced “am-end.”

The two 250,000-square-foot buildings are focused entirely on almonds. What separates this facility from others is that they will take almonds from any grower, according to Steve Sagouspe, managing partner along with Sullivan. The cold storage will allow almonds to be stored up to two years, meaning during times of plenty, growers can keep the nut in storage rather than bringing it to market. Each building will be able to store 50 million pounds of finished product. “I think farmers and processors are going to really enjoy the opportunity of being able to time their sale rather than having to get rid of it,” Sullivan said. With shipping disrupted as it is now, growers are having to sit on massive amounts of product, creating gluts in the market. Almonds this year have traded below $2 a pound, down from highs of $5 a pound a few years ago. Having access to cold storage means longer shelf life and more stable markets, Sagouspe said.

This also means the almonds don’t need to be fumigated for sanitary purposes. They will also be able to store certified organic almonds. Sullivan and Sagouspe contracted with Madera’s Span Development to build their ground-up development at the Madera Airport Industrial Park. Sullivan hopes to have the building up in the first half of 2023. The Amond World model allows for more growth in the Valley — anywhere almond grows, he added. They are currently scouting additional real estate near Chowchilla and Pixley.

The partnership with Span Development allows them to build several at a time. Part of the seven-year delay came with finding investors, said Sagouspe. They had courted suitors from other parts of the world, but they weren’t a good fit. They eventually found Adam Hayner from Los Angeles-based Origo Investments. The fit was good, he said. Coming from Washington originally and being involved in apple farming, Hayner knew about the importance of cold storage, Sagouspe said. Hayner said supporting the Central Valley is integral to supporting the food chain. The building would also be built with sustainable materials and powered by renewable energy, including solar panels and solar batteries. Sullivan hopes within five years to have 5 million square feet of cold storage online. Sullivan and Sagouspe were both previously real estate brokers with backgrounds in ag, but said Amond World is their new full-time job.