Valley awarded $118M for clean ag equipment

More clean machines are coming to valley farms. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District has accepted an additional $118.8 million to replace agricultural equipment in the San Joaquin Valley, with the funding from the California Air Resources Board seen as a step in reducing agricultural emissions through regulatory and incentive-based strategies. The FARMER Program (Funding Agricultural Replacement Measures for Emission Reductions) is a collaborative effort between the agricultural community, the air district and CARB in addressing emissions from agricultural sources, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley.

To date, the district has been the recipient of $432,129,600 in FARMER Program funding during the first four funding cycles. “The district appreciates the state recognizing the public health benefit that results from the FARMER funding,” said Samir Sheikh, executive director for the Valley Air District. “The San Joaquin Valley agricultural sector feeds the world and programs like FARMER are critical to supporting the ongoing transition to more sustainable and air-friendly practices.”

Valley agriculture, in partnership with the district and CARB, has invested more than $1.7 billion in public and private funding towards replacing nearly 17,000 pieces of old, higher-polluting equipment and implementing other measures to reduce emissions associated with valley agricultural operations. In March, the valley district approved increases to incentive levels for its Agriculture Tractor Replacement program and added two new incentive tiers for smaller farming operations. Operations of 100 acres and less in size can now receive up to 80% off the cost of equipment, and operations between 101 and 500 acres in size can now receive up to 70% off.

Funding opportunities can be found on the program’s webpage at Smaller farmers also receive an increased incentive under the district’s Alternatives to Agricultural Burning program. The Valley Air District covers eight counties including San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and portions of Kern.

California About to Become the World’s 4th-Largest Economy

With many California companies outperforming their U.S. and international peers, the Golden State is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest economy. That was the projection delivered Monday by analyst Matthew A. Winkler in a Bloomberg opinion column. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who faces challenger state Sen. Brian Dahle in the Nov. 8 election, quickly touted the analysis on social media.

California Attracts Talented People

Predictions about California’s demise are hardly a new phenomenon. But they’ve heated up in recent years because of the state’s wildfires, housing shortage, rise in the cost of living, and the appeal of low-tax states such as Texas to both families and businesses. But, Winkler writes, “California’s economy has proven relatively resilient, first through the pandemic and now through the current period of elevated inflation. So much so, that the Golden State’s gross domestic product is poised to overtake Germany’s as the fourth largest in the world after the US, China, and Japan.”

According to Winkler, the California economy is being turbo-charged by investments in renewable energy and the ability to attract talented entrepreneurs and employees. “We value innovation but we also value diversity and equity,” said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. “It’s nice to see those values are economically rewarded because California was very much lambasted” during the Trump administration.

Golden State GDP at $3.35 Trillion and Growing

Economists calculated the state’s gross domestic product at $3.357 trillion last year. Although California’s new GDP won’t be known until 2023, estimates suggest the state may have already caught Germany. Winkler wrote that at least one forecast has California already ahead of Germany by $72 billion.

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.

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

Coalition involving UC Merced awarded $65 million in Build Back Better Funds

The White House announced today (Sept. 2) a $65.1 million award — the largest federal grant ever awarded to the Central Valley — to the Fresno-Merced Future of Food Innovation (F3) Coalition as part of its “Build Back Better” initiative to boost economic recovery after the pandemic. The funding will help launch a state-of-the-art agricultural technology hub that will serve and connect farmers across the San Joaquin Valley to industry and spark a new, more advanced era in agriculture-based technology in an effort to boost productivity, create jobs and build capacity for regional sustainability.

Composed of scholars and researchers from UC Merced and Fresno State, farmers, agricultural organizations, community colleges and manufacturers, the F3 coalition is one of 21 regional groups selected to receive grants from the federal government’s $1 billion Build Back Better Regional Challenge. The coalition’s proposal received the largest pool of funding from the challenge and was among 60 finalists nationwide. In total, the challenge garnered 530 applicants.

The new technology center, dubbed iCREATE, will serve communities across Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties. Ashley Swearengin, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation (CVCF) — the lead agency and coordinator of the grant — describes it as a place that will “bring together the University of California research arm with the engineering capabilities of our state schools, alongside industry and community, all under one roof at a dedicated facility.” “We are thrilled that the Biden administration has recognized the unique potential of our Valley in awarding this grant to the Central Valley Community Foundation,” said UC Merced Chancellor Juan Sánchez Muñoz. “UC Merced looks forward to working with all our partners shoulder to shoulder to advance this effort and make the San Joaquin corridor the foremost global destination for innovation in the future of food.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Marjorie Zatz called today’s announcement a signature moment for economic development in Central California. “Linking higher education, from the UC and CSU, through our community college partners, to build next generation technologies and train the workforce of the future will continue to build the massive economic impact our faculty and researchers are already having on this region.”

UC Merced professor Joshua Viers, also the director of CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, a key research partner of the effort, has been working with the CVCF since the visioning and scoping period of the F3 coalition began back in 2019. As associate dean for research in the School of Engineering, he will be launching iCREATE as its first center director to spur collaboration among the project participants and helping to integrate workforce development at local community colleges and local food producer activity supported by University of California Cooperative Extension offices. “The Build Back Better funding of F3 will not only accelerate research and development solutions for climate smart food systems that benefit local communities in the Valley, but also transform how we produce and process food in the future,” Viers said. “We will continue to lead the nation in producing food but will lead the planet in how to do it in a more technologically advanced and sustainable manner.”

$6M in small business grant money authorized by Kings County board of supervisors

The Kings County board of supervisors voted 4-0 to authorize the Kings County Economic Development Corporation to execute small business contracts for grant funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Lance Lippincott, county Economic and Workforce Development Director, submitted a request to the board for $500,000 in grant funding to be put toward the Small Business Assistance Program his department developed. Thanks to support from county supervisors Doug Verboon and Richard Valle, Lippincott was authorized $6 million in funding, he said. “The board has been proactive in helping small businesses, especially going into the recession,” Lippincott said. The new authorization will help Kings County businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthy businesses support a healthy county,” Supervisor Richard Valle said.

According to Valle, the pandemic still generates a financial strain for some local businesses and the money will ease those burdens. Kings County as a whole faced difficulty in 2020 with getting the word out to those business owners needing the support. Some businesses were uncertain if they qualified while others were concerned about too much government overreach and involvement, he said.

While some positive impact came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) money, the ARPA grant money provides more flexibility for qualifying businesses. The process for the grants is far easier to go through for business owners and Lippincott’s department plans to be as helpful as possible. “If in doubt, apply,” Valle added. There are requirements for businesses to be eligible for the grant money. The business must maintain a current and valid license; must have been in operation prior to March 15, 2020; and have 100 or fewer employees.

There is a fourth requirement specific to the pandemic. The business must have incurred significant financial loss attributed to COVID-19. According to Lippincott, this financial loss must be reflected in a decrease in gross receipts between 2019-20 and 2020-21. Contact the Kings County Economic Development Corporation for more information about Kings County small business grants.

San Joaquin agency to receive $3.9M for hybrid electric buses

STOCKTON — San Joaquin Regional Transit District was awarded $3.9 million in grant funding from the Federal Transit Administration to expand its hybrid electric bus fleet. The expansion will allow RTD to enhance its service in underserved and marginalized neighborhoods in Stockton, the agency said. RTD is one of 12 local agencies to receive a share of more than $1.175 billion from the FTA’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program, also known as a Low-No grant, designed to help transit agencies modernize their fleets with advanced technologies to improve air quality by reducing greenhouse gases.

The Low-No grant will assist in purchasing five new Gillig hybrid electric buses allowing RTD to expand and increase the service frequency of routes 525 and 576. These routes currently serve areas identified by the United States Department of Transportation San Joaquin County Census Tract as Historically Disadvantaged Communities.

Investments in these communities align with President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution District’s mission of improving Central Valley residents’ health and quality of life. “It is important we continue to invest not only in cleaner vehicles but also in the infrastructure needed to support them,” Senator Alex Padilla said in Tuesday’s media statement. “That is why I will continue to advocate for more funding to transition to buses that are better for our environment and public health.”

Projects were selected based on several factors including air quality benefits, economic competitiveness, financial leverage, transformational impact, and readiness to implement. “We are grateful to the FTA, Senator (Alex) Padilla, and the California congressional delegation for securing this funding,” RTD CEO Alex Clifford said in a Tuesday media statement. “RTD is committed to providing equitable transportation to the residents of our community while also being good stewards of the environment, and this grant allows us to do both,” he added. “Our goal is to increase service levels and frequency, providing better access to employment, education, healthcare, and shopping offering more opportunities and impacting the lives of many residents.”

Patriot Rail to establish rail district in central California

Patriot Rail CEO John E. Fenton is hoping the creation of a new rail district in central California will be a boon not only for his company but also for agricultural producers in the region. Patriot Rail is part of a public-private partnership with local leaders to develop a rail district for central California. Patriot Rail will lease approximately 6,500 feet of track and related property to Merced County, and the company will invest $1.2 million to increase rail capacity there at the Castle Commerce Center. The lease’s term spans 20 years, but it could be renewed in subsequent years. Patriot Rail interchanges with BNSF (NYSE: BRK.B), meaning that agricultural producers will have expanded access to the West Coast ports as well to the domestic market. When local economic developers were pursuing options for a rail district, BNSF brought Patriot Rail to the table, according to Fenton. “We think this is a great opportunity for the state of California to make their farmers even that much more competitive around the world,” Fenton told FreightWaves.

Patriot Rail’s involvement in the rail district was in response to an area shipper’s needs. Tomato products producer Morning Star and its warehousing provider needed to expand their packaging capabilities, and so they were looking for an area to grow, according to Fenton. Locations such as Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento were already at capacity, so expanding production in the San Joaquin Valley was the next natural location, Fenton said. “The San Joaquin Valley is one of the agricultural centers of the world. And there’s a lot of tomatoes that come out of that region,” Fenton said. Fenton hopes to have Patriot Rail’s assets ready by May 1, which is when the pack season starts for Morning Star. The pack season involves 100 days of operations running 24/7. In that time, Morning Star produces about 9,000 cans of tomatoes per minute, Fenton said.

According to the California Tomato Growers Association, tomato producers in the state processed 11.3 million tons of tomatoes in 2020, and that production has a value worth $887 million. Other agricultural products in the region include almonds, wine and cheese. According to the Almond Board of California, the counties of Stanislaus, Merced and San Joaquin in central California produced 921 million pounds of almonds during the 2020-2021 crop year, representing nearly 30% of overall California almond production.

Although Patriot Rail and others aren’t sure yet how many carloads might come out of the rail district, the rail district provides shippers with the opportunity to build warehouses and expand production. “We are meeting with all the agricultural shippers in the region. We want them to have a say in what kind of services they’re looking for. … The demand is really high, and we’re going to start to piece that together. The first thing is to really understand what the demand will be so we can build the facility and plan the facility in the right way,’ Fenton said. “We’re still scoping that [demand] but over time, we think it will become a very large rail district in the state of California.”

The agreement with Merced County was executed with Patriot Rail subsidiary Foster Townsend Rail Logistics. “Castle Commerce Center has enormous potential and is quickly becoming a site of regional, national and international significance,” Merced County Supervisor Daron McDaniel said in a release last week. McDaniel’s district includes Castle. “Patriot is a major part of our vision for Castle, and we’re looking forward to working with the partners they bring to help expand this growth and spur future job creation.”


Madera County Receives $450K Grant From Caltrans

Madera County is pleased to announce the receipt of a Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant award of $450,000 from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The award will be used to develop a Transit Area Specific Plan that will establish a vision for the phased implementation effort to relocate the San Joaquins Madera Station and construct the adjacent future High-Speed Rail (HSR) station.

The plan will lead to the creation of new intermodal transit options and future transit-oriented development along the Avenue 12 corridor in southeastern Madera County. The project is consistent with and supportive of the goals of the Caltrans Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program, Senate Bill 1 requirements, the Madera County General Plan, the Madera State Center Community College Specific Plan (SCCCSP), Federal Railroad Administration(FRA) requirements, as well as the HSR Authority’s programmatic and project environmental documents.

Madera County will do the planning work in partnership with the City of Madera, Madera County Transportation Commission, San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA), California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and Caltrans. This effort will guide the design and land-use in the vicinity of the station area as well as enable Madera County to promote economic development, encourage station area development and enhance multi-modal access connections between the station, the City of Madera, Madera Community College, and other surrounding communities throughout Madera County and northern Fresno County. “This is an exciting step towards enhancing our current rail connectivity. I believe this is imperative to the success of our cities, our County, Madera Community College, and the residents we serve through smart transit-oriented development,” said Madera County Board of Supervisor Brett Frazier following Monday’s announcement.

California one step closer to establishing high-speed rail with Silicon Valley to Merced line

After years of anticipation and developments, the state is one step closer to establishing a high-speed rail connection between Northern and Southern California. This week, California High-Speed Rail Authority officials approved a 90-mile stretch set to run from San Jose to Merced. This section would begin at San Jose’s Diridon Station and connect to a Central Valley site currently under construction. This connection will cut travel time between the two regions from roughly three hours to one hour.  San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo says he sees the developments as good news for the local economy.  “Completion of this critically important high-speed rail project helps the state expand economic opportunity and affordable housing, two critical goals for all of us,” he said.

Monterey County resident Stefan Mora says he often travels up and down the state for work and believes the high speed rail is a good alternative for people who spend a lot of time behind the wheel.  “It’s a great way to travel,” he said. “You’ll save gas with the prices it’s at right now, and save plenty of time not dealing with traffic.” High-speed rail officials say this development helped achieve environmental clearance for nearly 400 miles of the project’s 500-mile Phase 1 alignment from San Francisco to the Los Angeles and Anaheim area. This includes a stretch from Merced to Palmdale, and Burbank to Los Angeles — a section cleared earlier this year.

The project is also set to “modernize and electrify” an existing rail corridor between San Jose and Gilroy, allowing for high speed rail and Caltrans services. This alignment includes more than 15 miles of tunnels through the Pacheco Pass in the Diablo Range. Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley is calling it “the next most significant transit hub” behind San Jose.  “Gilroy Transit Center is very much ready for this to happen,” Blankley said.   Salinas resident Christian Lopez says he hopes the high speed rail will make for a better traveling experience. “Maybe it can help take vehicles off the freeways and they can lessen how crowded it is at airports,” he said. Construction for the high-speed rail is ongoing along 119 miles in the Central Valley at 35 active job sites. “The authority is poised to make the vision of high-speed rail in the Bay Area a reality,” Authority CEO Brian Kelly said. “We look forward to continued collaboration with our federal, state and local partners to advance the project in Northern California.”