Worms help power Valley winery’s wastewater system

Worms are helping a Valley winery on its path to becoming more green. Olympic-sized swimming pools at O’Neill Winery are actually beds filled with worms helping the company become greener. “Our technology at BioFiltro, what it is is the star of the show is the worm. Ultimately, the worms are known as an ecosystem or environmental engineers,” said Mai Ann Healy, BioFiltro spokesperson.

BioFiltro, an international company, was able to go through Fresno State’s Valley Ventures program that focuses on water, engineering and technology businesses. The worms are known for converting waste or organic matter. Water is spread across the worm beds and goes through levels of wood chips, river rocks, drainage cells and exit pipes. “So within four hours, our worms are getting fed, getting full and also producing more microbes and bacteria that’s furthering helping us reduce and convert waste into beneficial byproducts,” Healy said. The technology allows the company to take about 80 million gallons of processed water and clean it.

O’Neill Winery is the seventh-largest winery in California. They produce wines and spirits sold around the United States. “So what we are trying to do is provide a sustainable process so that we can have a facility that is environmentally stewards, that is reducing our carbon footprint, reducing/minimizing our waste,” said Phil Castro, senior director of winery operations. O’Neill said they’ve taken steps to be more green with solar energy and the BioFilitro system. They’re able to save water and use that for crop irrigation and reduce the amount of water they use. “So we can ensure for generations to come that there’s water available to continue the great process of agriculture,” Castro said. A sustainable process and technology thriving here in the Valley.

CROP REPORTS REVEAL NEW, OLD TRENDS IN VALLEY AGRICULTURE

Delays involving coronavirus pushed the publishing of Central Valley crop reports back this year. While farm receipts from 2018 to 2019 show an almost unchanging total, beneath the surface, shifts in dominant crops have begun to occur as growers face labor shortages and higher water demand. Cumulatively, ag commissioners across Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Madera counties report gross values in 2019 equaling $19.41 billion, down from $19.45 billion in 2018.

Almonds have been the top crop for several years in Fresno County, but in other counties, they are still coming into their own. In Tulare County, almonds ranked No. 6, up from No. 8 the year before. The nut grossed $426 million in 2019, up from $311 million. Acreage also increased, up 11,000 acres from 2018 to 78,300 acres. Growers have been fearing a price drop as acreage continues to grow, said Roland Fumasi, North American Regional Head for RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness in a previous interview. Supply continues to grow, setting shipment records. Another record year is predicted for the crop, with estimates ranging at 3 billion pounds being produced. Lower prices means some California crops can better compete abroad against other producers, but the United States produces 80% of almonds worldwide. Lower prices don’t give California growers an edge like they should. However, lower prices means more people can afford the nut. Because of lower pricing and strong demand, shipments have been robust, Fumasi said.

Almonds averaged $4,942 a ton across the four counties, according to the crop reports in 2019. Prices in 2018 averaged $4,664 a ton. Decreases in wine acreage lead a retreat in grapes across the Central Valley. In Fresno County, raisin and table grape acreage had slight increases. Grapes used to consistently hold the top spot over the years, competing with citrus. Of late, vineyards have bequeathed that title to less labor-intensive crops such as almonds. Table grapes have seen a rise over the past few years, according to Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association. There has been a shift in varieties for sweeter grapes, he said.

The industry still relies on human hands and labor represents the biggest issue, followed by water. Bunches of grapes are still picked by hand, then sent down the rows in wheelbarrows where they’re packed. Even in the off-season, vines need to be thinned and prepped. Forty percent of table grapes go overseas and foreign markets view California grapes as “premium,” said LeMay. So while labor demands have put pressure on getting higher prices, that view of quality coming from the Central Valley hasn’t affected the fruit’s ability to compete internationally “yet,” said LeMay.

Grapes grossed $2.07 billion, down from $2.27 billion in 2018. Acreage increased in Tulare County to 53,680 acres from 51,950 acres in 2018. Acreage decreased in Fresno County to 164,549 acres from 168,038 in 2018. Over the last few years, citrus has struggled, said Casey Creamer, president of California Citrus Mutual. Larger volume crops coupled with trade disputes have caused problems all around for citrus growers. “When one is out of whack, it creates a real problem in the industry,” said Creamer. Exports represent 30% of the market for citrus. Oranges, both navel and Valencia, grossed $1.17 billion, up from $762 million, according to crop reports. Creamer says 2020 has cause for growers to be more optimistic about citrus.

The loss of restaurant purchasing has put lemons at a loss, but domestic demand for citrus, especially in the face of a pandemic, has raised pricing for oranges and mandarins. The upcoming winter crop for navels looks like the fruit will have good size and quality, Creamer said. It is a little too early to tell how foreign markets will be for the upcoming crop, but he anticipates domestic demand to continue to be strong.

A phase-one agreement in trade deals between the U.S. and China in February dropped tariffs on citrus to 35% from 75%. The fact that the development occurred a month before the pandemic stymied any potential boon growers could have experienced from the negotiation. Growers may see a benefit for this season’s harvest, however. Some other notable development occurred in fruits and veggies. Melons did well in 2019 in Fresno County, growing to $194 million from $156 million in 2018. Lettuce leaf more than tripled to $97 million from $31 million. Recorded price per unit in the crop reports almost tripled to $1,350 a ton from $500. Garlic and onions had a tough year with late spring rains, according to Bob Ehn, CEO of the Garlic and Onion Research Advisory Board.

A fungus called garlic rust was prevalent, causing growers to spray three to five times that season. Hail also damaged a lot of fresh market onions. Onions halved to $178 million from $369 million. Garlic dropped to $365 million from $434 million.

2018 was a banner year, however, setting high marks for the crops. 2020 is looking to do the same, said Ehn. The advisory board is looking to stretch its influence into Kern and Madera counties. Critical water issues in west Fresno County could pose a threat into the future, Ehn said. In the past 10 years, that region of Fresno County grows 95% of garlic for the country.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/crop-reports-reveal-new-old-trends-in-valley-agriculture/

Blue Diamond reports $1.59 billion in revenue. Almond milk from Turlock is a hit

Blue Diamond Growers had $1.59 billion in revenue in its latest annual report, boosted in part by the new almond milk operation in Turlock. The Sacramento-based cooperative saw a 1.5% increase in the fiscal year ending Aug. 28 over the previous year. It was announced during a Nov. 23-24 online event that replaced the usual luncheon at Modesto Center Plaza.

Blue Diamond employs about 1,800 people at plants in Sacramento, Salida and Turlock, up about 100 from a year ago. It is the biggest player in a California almond industry that accounts for about 80 percent of the global supply. This was the 110th annual meeting for the company, launched in Sacramento in 1910. Plants followed in Salida in 1968 and Turlock in 2013. The Washington Road plant in June added Almond Breeze milk to its slicing, dicing, blanching and almond flour production. Before that, the Sacramento plant made all of this dairy substitute.

The Salida plant long did just basic processing of bulk almonds bound for food makers around the world and the Turlock and Sacramento plants. Last year, the Sisk Road site added dry-roasting and flour production. This past spring, it expanded warehouse space for incoming nuts by 20 percent.

https://www.modbee.com/news/business/agriculture/article247517695.html#:~:text=Blue%20Diamond%20Growers%20had%20%241.59%20billion%20in%20revenue,year%20ending%20Aug.%2028%20over%20the%20previous%20year.

Top World Region – San Joaquin Valley Agriculture

Fresno County is home to over 1.4 million acres of productive pasture and farmland. It remained the top ag county in the state and nation. Ag commissioner Melissa Cregan delivered the crop report to county supervisors. Cregan told the board, “The 2019 gross production value for agriculture in Fresno County was $7.718 billion.”

That figure was down 2% from a year ago but the battle to be the number-one ag producer was extremely tight among valley counties. Fresno County topped the list at $7.71 billion. Kern County was right behind at $7.62 billion, while Tulare County was at $7.50 billion.

Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen explained, “In a year like this year, you really appreciate that the value that every single farmer contributes really makes that difference.” The pandemic decreased demand for some crops during the spring. In April, we watched some lettuce get disced back into the ground because orders for restaurants and schools were canceled due to a sudden drop in demand in the foodservice industry. Cregan said, “Fresno County’s agricultural strength is based on the diversity of the crops we produce.”

Over 300 crops were grown in Fresno County. Seventy-eight of them topped $1 million in annual ag production. Jacobsen said, “The shining star once again was almonds, saw a dramatic increase there. A lot of that was acreage based.” Almonds were worth over $1.5 billion in 2019.

The number-two crop, grapes, dipped under the billion-dollar mark though. Jacobsen said, “Table grapes, wine grapes as well as raisins. It’s been tough for the local grape industry.” Pistachios, poultry and milk rounded out the county’s top five crops. Cregan thanked local growers and ranchers for their resiliency during a tough year. She said, “All the glory goes to the farmers because they’re the ones producing these crops and placed us where we are.” International trade was down. Ag officials believe continued challenges posed by the pandemic may lead to lower production numbers next year.

https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.111/c75.1d5.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Kern-EDC_Ag-Flyer_2020.pdf

Tehachapi Mountains receives wine growing designation

After years of hard work, Tehachapi Mountains has received accreditation for its award-winning wines. On Wednesday, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, announced that local vintners can now label their bottles of wine as the Tehachapi Mountains American Viticultural Area.

Established by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, this action will allow Tehachapi wines to compete with other well-known AVAs in the state such as Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles. There are currently 251 AVAs in the United States, including 140 in California.

Jim Arnold, Triassic Vineyards’ owner and president of Tehachapi Wine Growers Commission, was instrumental in the Tehachapi Mountains receiving its AVA accreditation. “I am excited that the Tehachapi Mountains American Viticultural Area has been approved. This means a lot for the Tehachapi wine growers, the greater Tehachapi area and Kern County. In addition to being known as ‘The Land of Four Seasons,’ Tehachapi will become known as an exceptional wine-growing region tucked away in the Tehachapi Mountains,” said Arnold. Arnold said that if it wasn’t for the efforts of Bob and Patty Souza and Chuck McCollough, Tehachapi’s original wine growers, the recent accreditation could not have been possible.

In 2018, Tehachapi area vineyard owners filed a petition with the TTB to establish an AVA in the region. It was accepted as perfected and ready for rule-making later that year.  “This announcement is welcome news for our community, which has been working to establish the Tehachapi Mountains AVA for several years and is something I have strongly supported and urged the administration to finalize,” McCarthy wrote in a news release. The Tehachapi Mountains AVA will encompass approximately 58,000 acres of some of the highest elevations in the country.

According to Julie Bell, Tehachapi Mountains AVA petition author, the establishment of the Tehachapi Mountains AVA will give Tehachapi area winegrowers the ability to develop and market their wine based on the reputation of the Tehachapi area for producing high-quality wine grapes. “The high altitude, yet warm conditions truly make the Tehachapi area unique, providing winegrowers a setting to grow and fully ripen quality wine grapes, which require both warm, sunny days and cool nights to develop the subtle flavors necessary to make outstanding wines,” Bell said in the news release.

McCarthy said that the AVA designation will also help stimulate the local economy by further putting Tehachapi wines on the map. “I think this is the most wonderful thing that could happen to Tehachapi. Now, we are a wine-growing region, and we get to be recognized for it, and I couldn’t be happier,” Tehachapi Mayor Susan Wiggins said Wednesday.

City Manager Greg Garrett also voiced his excitement.  “The city of Tehachapi is thrilled to raise a glass in cheers to our local wine growers,” Garrett said Wednesday. “The accreditation of the Tehachapi Mountains AVA not only brings our local growers and winemakers into the spotlight, but all of our community will benefit from the positive economic benefit it brings us. This accreditation could not have been possible without the leadership of Congressman McCarthy and the growers working together to achieve this goal. Akin to a good blend of wine.”

According to Zack Scrivner, 2nd District Kern County supervisor, the AVA accreditation provides an important economic development tool for the regional vineyards, wineries and tasting rooms, which will, in turn, increase tourism and sales. “I congratulate the Tehachapi Wine Growers Commission and the Greater Tehachapi Economic Development Council who have worked so hard to bring this important designation to our beautiful region,” Scrivner wrote.

https://www.bakersfield.com/news/tehachapi-mountains-receives-wine-growing-designation/article_7d851870-29ea-11eb-82b0-1743a88af3d9.html

Baloian growing more than vegetables, Fresno expansion complete

As the summer season settles in for Baloian Farms, commodity harvests are approaching the peak of the season, the completion of a massive facility expansion in Fresno, CA, is a welcomed sight. The expansion includes the creation of additional dock space, the doubling the number of loading bay doors, and increased semi-truck parking capacity. These expansion areas combine to facilitate additional storage capacity for crops and also increases outbound loading efficiencies. The expansion simultaneously increases cross-docking capabilities for the growing needs of customers.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to grow with our customers, and this facility expansion is just one phase of many that incorporates many years of planning and strategy,” said Jeremy Lane, sales manager for Baloian Farms. “Our long-term growth strategy includes year-round production of peppers, squash, eggplant, and chile peppers for distribution within the United States, Canada and Mexico.”

Timothy Baloian, CEO of Baloian Farms said, “The expansion of our Fresno location is an important investment in customer service, and we are contributing to the sustainability of our regional growers and business partners, both from a farming standpoint, and also from our business model that accommodates for the changing needs of our customers.”

Baloian Farms’ management anticipates an increasing need for multiple commodities to be ready and available to customers at all times. By increasing their product line this season to add yams, chili peppers, and cucumbers, these facility expansion plans are well served to bring Baloian Farms into a new decade of commodity leadership and growth.

Baloian Farms is a fourth-generation, vertically integrated family farm, with year-round operations specializing in peppers and mixed vegetables grown in California and Mexico.

https://theproducenews.com/baloian-growing-more-vegetables-fresno-expansion-complete

Local growers debut carrot hot dogs

From the land of tri-tip sandwich fundraisers and 24-hour biscuits-and-gravy sales now comes this: hot dogs made from whole carrots. Don’t act surprised. Despite its red-meat reputation Bakersfield is home to the country’s two largest carrot growers, the invention of the popular ‘baby carrot’ snack and a carrot-focused innovation lab employing 15 food scientists on East Brundage Lane.

https://www.newsbreak.com/california/bakersfield/news/2081730626935/local-growers-debut-carrot-hot-dogs-pasta-chips

 

Caribbean import is Valley’s top exporter

VISALIA – Crops from Tulare County go to three quarters of the world’s countries making Tulare County one of the top agricultural exporting counties in the nation. The companies connecting produce sellers and buyers are often large, international companies with hundreds or thousands of employees. But some of the exporters, like many of the farmers they partner with, remain small, grass roots businesses located just down around the corner.

It was just 15 years ago when Didier Vivies, an immigrant from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, founded his company Central Valley Ag Exports, Inc. in Visalia. He began by going door-to-door to establish relationships with farmers who would supply him with high quality commodities at a good price and with customers whom were willing to give him a chance and start buying from him. From these humble beginnings, today CVAE employs 10 people and has earned the “2020 Exporter of the Year” Small Business Award from the Central California Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network SBA. They were nominated for the National Small Business Award by the Valley Community Small Business Development Center (VCSBDC) which serves Tulare, Fresno, Kings and Madera Counties, and is hosted by Clovis Community College.

“We were honored to have CVAE win this award,” VCSBDC director Rich Mostert explained. “Our team of expert consultants provides a full range of no-cost services and workshops to companies across a diverse array of industries, and it is always so rewarding to help a company grow and succeed.”

Due to the pandemic the traditional May SBA Small Business Week event was unable to occur, and the company has been recognized in a private ceremony. “This yearly event recognizes the critical impact small businesses have on our local economies and celebrates the outstanding accomplishments made by each of our award recipients,” Central CA SBDC regional director Kurt Clark said. “Their achievements exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit that is a hallmark of the U.S.”

Vivies established the business in the most fertile agricultural area of the San Joaquin Valley and features a large variety of legumes such as beans, peas, lentils, rice and oatmeal. Serving both domestic and international companies, they offer a variety of options, from bulk deliveries direct from farmer to customer, to packaging for international and domestic locations, to private label packaging.

CVAE credits the consulting assistance they received from the Valley Community SBDC as pivotal to their growth and success, and have worked with the VCSBDC for several years. “VCSBDC’s consultant Olga Martinez has been of great help by assisting us with our growth objectives by introductions to prospective strategy partners through business-to-business match-making, recommending we participate in different conferences and trade shows, plus other strategy advisory services,” CVAE operations manager Ludivine Vivies said.

Since 2003, the Central CA SBDC has assisted thousands of companies, from start-ups to established firms with no-cost consulting services, workshops and assistance in sourcing funds. This has helped to create and retain over 10,000 jobs, as well as creating more than $435 million in loans and equity. The Central CA SBDC and its five dedicated satellite Centers serve 14 counties in Central California: San Luis Obispo, San Benito, Monterey, Stanislaus, Merced, Tuolumne, Mariposa, Fresno, Kings, Madera, Tulare, Kern, Mono and Inyo counties.

https://thesungazette.com/article/business/2020/10/07/caribbean-import-is-valleys-top-exporter/

FRENCH GROUP BUYS KRAFT CHEESE DIVISION, INCLUDING TULARE PLANT

French dairy company Lactalis Group has entered into a definitive agreement for the acquisition by its U.S. affiliate of Kraft Heinz’s Natural, Grated, Cultured and Specialty cheese businesses in the U.S. With this acquisition, Lactalis will acquire a portfolio of iconic, strongly-positioned brands that include Cracker Barrel, Breakstone’s, Knudsen, Polly-O, Athenos, Hoffman’s and — outside the U.S. and Canada only — Cheez Whiz.

In addition, Kraft Heinz will partner with Lactalis on a perpetual license for Kraft in Natural, Grated and International cheeses and Velveeta in Natural and International cheeses. Under the terms of the transaction, Lactalis will acquire three  Kraft Heinz production facilities located in Tulare; Walton, New York and Wausau, Wisconsin, and a distribution center in Weyauwega, Wisconsin.

Approximately 750 Kraft Heinz employees will be joining Lactalis. The company expects to add additional American jobs to support this business following the closing of the transaction, which is expected in the first half of 2021, subject to regulatory approvals. Kraft Tulare’s plant was originally a Louis Rich turkey plant in the 1990s but closed and later was converted by the parent company to make cheese — mostly mozzarella and Parmesan.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/french-group-buys-kraft-cheese-division-including-tulare-plant-%E2%80%A8/

Fresno agriculture company completes major expansion during pandemic

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Despite a drop in demand in some markets due to the pandemic, a Fresno ag company has just completed a major expansion. Expansion at Baloian Farms in Fresno came at a good time with so many vegetables now in season – like mini bell peppers. They were picked, packed and then shipped out to stores across the US and Canada.

Company CEO Tim Baloian said, “There’s three major retailers that we’re working with right now on consolidation, and then we work with wholesalers and there’s been increased demand.” The cold storage space has been expanded and the loading area has doubled in size from eight to 16 docks. That keeps the product moving in and out of the facility. Additional big rig parking has also been added.

Baloian said, “We can back a lot more trucks in and get these orders out much quicker than without these facilities.” In addition to bell peppers, Baloian also grows lettuce, squash and egg plant in the Fresno area, all the way to the central coast to keep up with demand. Baloian explained, “We do a lot of these commodities on a year-round basis, loading them either in Fresno or in Nogales, Arizona so we try to build our business as a year-round supplier of certain commodities.”

The retail market remained strong but the struggles continued for ag producers which supply restaurants and school cafeterias during this pandemic. Baloian said, “The food service sector of our business, which is a big part of what we do, is still suffering and is still down.” Baloian Farms survived its trial by fire. In October of 1993, Action News was there as fire destroyed its warehouse. The company was able to not only rebuild but gradually expand over the next few decades. Baloian said, “It’s by the grace of God we’re still in business.”

https://abc30.com/agriculture-fresno-ag-central-valley/6397620/