Category: Top Stories

WE’RE BACK, BABY! FRESNO TOP AG COUNTY ONCE AGAIN

Workers sort navel oranges earlier this year at Kings River Packing, northeast of Sanger. Photo by David Castellon.

Published On October 8, 2019 – 11:23 AM
Written By David Castellon

For the first time since 2013, Fresno County is the top agricultural county in California and the U.S.

This news comes with the Tuesday morning release of the 2018 Tulare County crop and livestock report, which shows sales of agricultural goods produced there last year totaled more than $7.21 billion, a 2.5% increase from ag sales in 2017.

In 2017, Kern County was the top ag county based on sales, followed by Tulare and Fresno counties, respectively.

But based on this latest crop report and those previously released, Fresno County shot up in the rankings to the top spot, with 2018 gross ag sales totaling more than $7.88 billion, followed by more than $7.46 billion in sales by Kern County farmers, ranchers, apiarists and others.

Although the data on 2018 ag sales isn’t in for all California counties and those in the rest of country, Fresno, Tulare and Kern have far and away been the top ag-producing counties in the nation in terms of ag sales.

For years, Fresno held on solidly to the first-place spot until Tulare County knocked it off that spot in 2014. After that, the top ag county title was held annually by either Tulare or Kern counties.

A big part of the reason for Fresno County falling short of the No. 1 ranking those years was due to California’s five-year drought that began in late 2011— the worst in the state’s recorded history — causing major water shortages in the western end of Fresno County that forced farmers there to limit their farming or let fields go fallow.

Weather and water conditions have since improved in the region.

As for the other South Valley counties, ag sales in Kings County totaled more than $2.35 billion last year and $2.05 billion in Madera County.

Those two counties ranked ninth and eleventh, respectively, among California’s ag counties in 2017.

It wasn’t immediately clear how they ranked statewide or nationally in 2018, as those tallies will not be compiled and disclosed until next year.

Madera, Kings and the other three South Valley counties all saw their ag sales totals increase last year.

For Tulare County, long the top dairy county in the U.S., it’s no surprise milk was the top-selling ag commodity in 2018, with sales totaling more than $1.68 billion. But that was down more than 5% — $93.1 million — from 2017 sales.

The report shows that the price of milk purchased from dairies declined from about $16.39 per hundredweight — 100 pounds — in 2017 by about a dollar in 2018, which reduced the total income dairies in the county received for their milk, even though production was up slightly.

It goes on to say that poultry and livestock values among Tulare County sales also declined slightly in 2018.

Sales of field crops rose nearly 9% from 2017 to 2018, which the county’s agricultural commissioner and his staff attributed to higher prices paid for them, while the 5.7% rise in sales of fruits and nuts is at least partially attributed to farmers expanding their production acreage of blueberries, pomegranates and tangerines.

Sales of ornamental trees and shrubs, as well as nursery-raised products, experienced even more vigorous growth over the same period of 47% and 34.7%, respectively, while sales of vegetable crops declined nearly 16% to $17. 2 million.

Part of the reason for the latter drop was due to farmers harvesting 931 fewer acres of vegetables last year compared to 2017, according to the crop report.

https://thebusinessjournal.com/were-back-baby-fresno-top-ag-county-once-again/?utm_source=Daily+Update&utm_campaign=bfd5b60568-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_10_08_08_31&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_fb834d017b-bfd5b60568-78934409&mc_cid=bfd5b60568&mc_eid=a126ded657

Kern quickly rises to become California’s top hemp-producing county

As of Friday afternoon, the county’s Agricultural Commissioner’s Office had registered 33 different entities planning to grow hemp on 76 sites comprising 6,864 acres, a county-wide total the agency said eclipses every other in the state.

With interest skyrocketing among local and out-of-town investors, there is some concern the boom in hemp cultivation could lead to a glut of material to produce the trendy cure-all cannabidiol, or CBD. But the plant itself is versatile enough that market participants are hopeful the crop is here to stay.

“I’d like to see this become a crop on your top-10 list in Kern County,” said Arvin-area hemp grower Kent Stenderup. The diversified farmer said he gets phone calls every week from people interested in contracting his company to grow the plant or show them how to do it themselves.

So many people have contacted county ag officials about their intentions of growing hemp locally that such inquiries now take about 80 percent of their time, said Cerise Montanio, deputy director of Kern’s Agricultural Commissioner’s Office.

WIDE INTEREST

State records show Kern hemp registrations have been issued to companies with mailing addresses as far away as Encino. Companies with names like CA Hempire and Freedom Farms LLC have gotten approval to grow on various parcels concentrated in the Lamont and Arvin area.

Questions remain as to how well-rooted the plant is locally. Montanio said harvesting techniques remain experimental and that it’s still unclear how many of the hemp fields being grown now will meet the requirement that the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, accounts for no more than about one-third of 1 percent of the plant’s chemistry.

“It’s a tricky little game,” she said, adding that any plant testing greater than that THC threshold must be destroyed.

HANDS-OFF APPROACH

One reason Kern has attracted so much interest, she said, is the county’s accommodating regulations. Other counties have caps on how much acreage may be used to produce hemp, while others ban cultivation of the plant altogether, she said. But not Kern.

“We don’t have a moratorium. We don’t have ordinances,” she said.  “We are allowing it.”

She and Stenderup expressed worries the surge of interest in CBD oil may quickly lead to over-planting. Stenderup said he hopes the situation doesn’t soon create a market “bubble.”

Even if the CBD market doesn’t need as much hemp as is being grown, though, Montanio said the plant’s strong fiber could prove useful for things like textiles, straws and even automobile parts.

ADDED BENEFITS

On the other hand, Kern’s openness to the crop may allow it to capitalize on another aspect of the CBD trend: oil processing.

The director of the county’s Planning and Natural Resources Department, Lorelei Oviatt, noted that hemp plants may be turned into oil within the county’s borders, but that this activity can only take place legally on land zoned for agricultural use. Once that’s done, however, the oil can be processed into creams or lotions on non-ag real estate.

She was optimistic hemp’s relatively low consumption of water would help Kern farmers weather upcoming restrictions on groundwater pumping. Plus, the need to extract oil from the crop is already bringing underused ag processing plants in the Arvin area back to life.

This community college in Stockton has been named one of the best in the country

 

SAN JOAQUIN DELTA COLLEGE

San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton was recently named the fourth best community college in the United States.

WalletHub, a personal finance website, analyzed 710 community colleges across the country on a variety of merits and found that the nearby school was the best in California.

Local colleges in the Los Rios Community College District made the list as well, with Folsom Lake College placing 118th overall and 18th in California, American River College placing 148th overall and 22nd in California, Sacramento City College placing 186th overall and 28th in California, Sierra College placing 253rd overall and 40th in California, and Cosumnes River College placing 397th overall and 60th in California.

WalletHub’s ranking is based on tuition costs – San Joaquin Delta College received praise for its affordability – educational outcomes and career outcomes.

The Stockton community college tied for third lowest in-state tuition along with American River College, Sacramento City College and Folsom Lake College.

San Joaquin Delta College’s enrollment fees for California residents are just $46 per unit, which adds up to $552 for a full academic load of 12 units.

The community college was beat out by State Technical College of Missouri in first place overall, Arkansas State University, Mountain Home in second place and Southern Arkansas University Tech in third.

These three colleges received higher marks from WalletHub in terms of educational outcomes, though still were given lower scores for cost, and the top two were given higher marks for career outcomes. San Joaquin Delta College was given a significantly better score for career outcomes than Southern Arkansas University Tech.

https://www.fresnobee.com/news/california/article234221017.html

UC MERCED Student Discovers 65-Million-Year-Old Triceratops Skull

By Josh Axelrod | NPR
Friday, July 26, 2019

As a child, Harrison Duran would visit the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, captivated by the fossils preserved in asphalt. Now 23, Duran is responsible for his own fossil discovery: the 65-million-year-old partial skull of a triceratops.

In June, the University of California, Merced student participated in a paleontology dig with Michael Kjelland, a biology professor at Mayville State University of North Dakota. The two met at a conference and began a mentor-mentee relationship – now, Duran is an intern at Kjelland’s nonprofit group, Fossil Excavators.

Duran’s account isn’t too far off from the action-movie plot the name Fossil Excavators evokes.

The pair went off into the Badlands of North Dakota on a two-week paleontology expedition. Arriving at Hell Creek Formation, an area famed for cretaceous dinosaur fossils, they came across the skull.

“I’m just feeling absolute – it’s almost like disbelief at first, but absolute just joy, excitement and it’s a very fulfilling feeling,” Duran tells NPR, about the moment the team made the find. “It’s almost like a spiritual moment in a way because I’ve been so passionate about this topic.”

After finding leaf fossils embedded in sandstone, the excavators continued forward and noticed the triceratops horn sticking out above the ground.

The dinosaur skull, which Kjelland and Duran named Alice, will be prepared for display after the specimen is solidified. Duran plans to have a mold exhibited at his school, where he is entering the fifth year of a 4+1 program in biology.

Duran’s dinosaur passion is prehistoric. He can’t remember the moment he first became infatuated.

“Since I was an infant I’ve always been so fascinated with a bunch of titans of these lost worlds,” Duran says.

As a freshman biology student, he took a course on the History of Dinosaurs with Justin Yeakel.

“He was just one of the most curious students in the class,” Yeakel says. “He probably knew about as much as I did about dinosaurs and would always ask really good questions.”

Duran plans to continue on with his biology degree and keep going on expeditions with his fossil-hunting mentor Kjelland. He hopes that the 65-million-year-old skull will stimulate interest in the land before time and the world of nature.

“I just want to say that our mission is for public education,” Duran says. “Our mission is to make sure that the public can become inspired and re-engaged in paleoecology, paleontology or just conservation.”

http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story/?storyid=745760553

Cutting Edge Company Creates Opportunity Zone Fund

PRESS RELEASE

 

July 19, 2019

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Contact:

Bobby Kahn

Executive Director

Madera County EDC

559-675-7768

bkahn@madercountyedc.com

 

Bill Pitman

CEO/Managing Member – Benton Enterprises

(559) 664-0800

bill@elkridgealmonds.com

 

Cutting Edge Company Creates Opportunity Zone Fund

A Madera County business specializing in state-of-the-art food safety technology has launched the region’s first qualified Opportunity Zone business and on June 19, 2019, The Berenda Opportunity Fund, LLC was formed. Also organized at that time, a second new entity named H-ATS to acquire certain assets of Benton Enterprises, LLC including, intellectual property under the name Adaptable Technology Systems (ATS), Heart Ridge Farms (HRF) and Elk Ridge Almonds (ERA).

ATS developed a proprietary process to reduce pathogens through a science and energy based technology to maximize food safety, preserve the integrity and taste of the food products. These techniques will significantly improve safe food handling for a wide variety of foods. Both Heart Ridge Farms and Elk Ridge Almonds currently utilize this technology for the retail brand (HRF) and bulk processing of almonds and pistachios (ERA).

Opportunity Zones are census tracts that were nominated by governors of each state and certified by the United States Treasury into which investors can invest in new projects to spur economic development in exchange for certain federal capital gains tax advantages. The opportunity zone tax incentive was adopted on December 22, 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that provides tax incentives for investments in underserved communities.

Opportunity Zone Funds are investment vehicles that require at least 90% of their capital in “Qualified Property,” which includes stock, partnerships, interests and business property. The fund model enables a broad array of investors to pool their resources in Qualified Zone Property, increasing the scale of capital going to investments in which the Opportunity Zone Fund will invest. An Opportunity Zone Fund provides material tax benefits for investors with capital gains from other investments.

William B. Pitman, with over 40 years of farming and food processing experience, founded Benton Enterprises in 2013. Recognizing the need for improved food safety while preserving and enhancing its product integrity, led to the development of a low temperature process for several types of locally grown nuts marketed for retail sales under brands Heart Ridge Farms (retail) and under Elk Ridge Almonds (bulk). “The H-ATS combination of the Benton businesses and the ATS technologies creates a food safety solution worldwide” said Pitman. “The need for better food safety while preserving the quality is critical and we feel we can help meet those needs with our proprietary technologies,” he added.

Pitman met with the Madera County Economic Development Commission to obtain information about Opportunity Zones and had this to say, “Bobby Kahn was very helpful in getting me started in the right direction”. “Bobby explained the basics of how an Opportunity Zone Fund works and provided me with names of people that could provide the expertise in the formation of an Opportunity Zone Fund” Pitman added.  It is interesting to note that Pitman represents a 7th generation Madera county family that has deep roots in agriculture.  The project consultants are the accounting firm of Moss Adams LLP (Fresno) and the legal firm, Cutting Edge Counsel (Oakland).

 

###

 

About Opportunity Zones: Opportunity Zones are a new tool for community development. Established in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, Opportunity Zones provide tax incentives for investment in designated census tracts. https://opzones.ca.gov/

 

About The Berenda Opportunity Zone Fund: Located inside a qualified Opportunity Zone. Under this new tax codes, this is a qualified fund for the new investors to enter through.

 

About H-ATS:  An opportunity zone business that includes Heart Ridge Farms (HRF), Elk Ridge Almonds (ERA) and Adaptable Technology Systems (ATS).

 

About Benton Enterprises: Benton Enterprises will manage both H-ATS and The Berenda Opportunity Fund.

 

About Madera County EDC: Madera County Economic Development Commission (MCEDC) is a joint Powers Authority comprised of the County of Madera, the City of Madera, and the City of Chowchilla. MCEDC’s mission is to support dynamic and diverse industry sectors that provide family sustaining wages and a high quality of life. MCEDC assists business with development projects, site selection, demographics, and business incentives. www.maderacountyedc.com

UC Merced ranked one of the nation’s top young universities, new ranking reports

 

More than 1,000 students walked the stage at UC Merced in the university’s 10th commencement ceremonies Saturday in Merced. More will walk the stage Sunday. (Thaddeus Miller/tmiller@mercedsunstar.com) http://www.mercedsunstar.com

The University of California, Merced landed on a list of the top five “young universities” in the country.

The University tied with Rush University in Ill., at number four among U.S. universities in the 2019 Times Higher Education Young University Rankings, according to a UC Merced news release.

This is UC Merced’s first year of eligibility for the ranking, which evaluates research, teaching, citations, industry income and international outlook of the qualifying universities.

“I consider this ranking to be an incredible feat for our young campus because it shows that we are a top-notch university that is already being recognized for excellence at just 14 years old,” said Chancellor Dorothy Leland in a news release.

Universities that ranked ahead of UC Merced on the list were the University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Texas at Dallas and George Mason University.

Last fall, UC Merced was ranked number 67 among public schools by the U.S. News and World Report. The ranking was an increase of 20 spots from the previous year according to the university. 

The university has also been ranked number 15 for social mobility, number 17 for best undergraduate teaching among public universities as well as being ranked number two in the nation for outperforming graduation rate expectations, according to the news release. 

UC Merced was also recognized last year as “University of the Year” by Education Dive.

https://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/local/education/uc-merced/article231992142.html

Plans to create medical school in Valley takes shape

Friday, June 7, 2019 6:29PM

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) — Creating a medical school in the Valley brought dozens of leaders to UCSF Fresno.

“The San Joaquin Valley has roughly 150 doctors per 100,000 residents. In contrast, San Francisco has 411 per 100,000 residents. You can see the dramatic difference that exists. This is one of the most underserved medical regions in the country,” said Assemblymember Adam Gray.

Gray helped lead the first San Joaquin Valley Coalition for Medical Education. He’s currently working on AB 1606 to help fund the school by not allowing people to write off their gambling losses on their taxes and using that fund.

The school would likely need $500 million to get started.

At Friday’s meeting leaders spoke about combining facilities and programs to jumpstart the school.

UCSF Fresno and UC Merced would combine forces to educate students.

“Getting a medical school started is extremely complicated there are a lot of regulatory barriers, political challenges and funding challenges. We’re excited to be partnering with UCSF, the Fresno office on a path to solving those problems,” said Gregg Camfield, UC Merced Executive Vice Chancellor.

UC Merced is working to create programs for the next generation.

“You name it, every kind of health professional is needed in the Valley and we’re committed to helping to produce that workforce,” said Camfield.

More than 300 doctors are currently training in the Valley through UCSF Fresno.

“Helping to develop students from the region who come from in those underrepresented areas in medicine will allow us to put people out into the community to provide care” Michael Peterson, UCSF Fresno Associate Dean.

Keeping the community healthy with a strong workforce of health professionals

“Lawmakers, University officials and leaders hope to the ideas from this meeting and to build more partnerships and find more funding. The San Joaquin Calley Coalition for medical education plans to meet later this year.

Manpower: Strong employment outlook predict for Q 3

Central Valley Business Times

June 11, 2019

  • 21 percent of employers nationwide plan to add employees
  • Two Central Valley metros are topping that

In the third quarter of 2019, 27 percent of U.S. employers expect to increase payrolls, 3 percent anticipate a decrease and 69 percent expect no change.

Once the data is adjusted to allow for seasonal variation, the national Net Employment Outlook for the U.S. stands at +21 percent, the strongest reported in 13 years.

Hiring intentions are 2 percentage points stronger when compared with the previous quarter, and improve by 3 percentage points in comparison with this time one year ago.

Employers in 28 percent of businesses surveyed in the West expect workforce gains during the coming quarter, while 3 percent anticipate a decrease and 68 percent expect no change. The resulting Net Employment Outlook stands at +25 percent. Once the data is adjusted to allow for seasonal variation, hiring plans for the region are the strongest reported in more than 11 years. Employers report a slight quarter-over-quarter improvement in the Outlook, and a moderate increase when compared with this time one year ago.

In three of the West’s industry sectors, employers report moderately stronger hiring intentions for Quarter 3 2019 when compared with the previous quarter: information, professional & business services and transportation & utilities. Slightly stronger hiring prospects are reported in four of the region’s industry sectors: financial activities, government, leisure & hospitality and nondurable goods manufacturing.

Education & health services sector employers in the West report a relatively stable labor market in a comparison with the second quarter of 2019, Manpower says.

During the next three months, job seekers in the West’s durable goods manufacturing and other services sectors can expect moderately weaker hiring activity when compared with the previous quarter, according to employers. Employers in the region’s construction and wholesale & retail trade sectors report slightly weaker hiring plans.

Manpower says 31 percent of employers in the Sacramento metropolitan area expect a net employment increase in the third quarter, one of the strongest performances in the nation.

More than one out of four (26 percent) of employers in the Stockton metro expect a net employment increase in Q 3, on par with Boston, Columbus, Omaha, Phoenix, and Washington, D.C.

Twenty percent of Bakersfield employers told Manpower that they plan to increase their workforces in the third quarter and 19 percent of those in the Fresno MSA said the same.

Employers in the Midwest report the strongest hiring prospects in 18 years, with Manpower’s outlook improving by 2 percentage points in comparison with Quarter 2 2019.

In the Northeast, hiring plans are 1 percentage point stronger when compared with the previous quarter and the outlook reported in the South is unchanged. The strongest regional hiring pace is expected in the West, where the outlook is +22 percent. Midwest employers report an  outlook of +21 percent, and outlooks stand at +20 percent and +19 percent in the South and the Northeast, respectively.

In a comparison with the second quarter of 2019, hiring prospects are slightly stronger in the West and the Midwest, says Manpower. Northeast employers report relatively stable hiring plans, and the outlook for the South is unchanged. When compared with this time one year ago, employers in the West report moderately stronger hiring intentions. Slight year-over-year improvements are reported in the Midwest and the Northeast, while employers in the South report relatively stable hiring plans.

https://files.constantcontact.com/2cb20f61601/1756cf8e-fe1a-41d2-aafe-b7693a621acd.pdf

Something new under the Valley sun: Marketing a table grape

Something new under the Valley sun: Marketing a table grape
• Delano growers start marketing what they say is a new table grape
• Tie marketing to pro basketball

Two families of grape growers in the Central Valley have partnered with the National Basketball Association to
introduce consumers to what they say is a new variety of table grapes.

The Campbell and Middleton families, owners of Blanc Vineyards in Bakersfield, have entered the company into a
multi-year licensing deal with the NBA that will see official league and team logos on packaging for its newest
varieties, including the “Pristine,” at supermarkets and in big box stores nationwide starting this month.
The Pristine, a large, crispy, green seedless grape, is the flagship proprietary variety grape of Blanc Vineyards. The
growers claim it is the best green variety globally. It’s the result of more than 20 years of cultivation, they say.

Sounding more like wine tasters, the growers say the grape “has a crisp snappy texture coupled with a taste that
starts off with a sweet vanilla streak and ends with a zesty Granny Smith apple finish.”

They are grown to retain firmness and fresh taste well after harvest. “Green grapes are natural, healthy snack food. To most
consumers, they’re all the same, but they’re really not, which is why we believe the NBA partnership makes
sense,” says Jack Campbell, co-owner of Blanc Vineyards. “The NBA does an unbelievable job ofhighlighting their athletes, and we are applying the same strategy to the grape industry.”

He says the growers thing that by putting consumers’ favorite sport- or team-logo on our packaging, they will be
able to instantly differentiate their products with a familiar and trusted name. “That gives us a huge advantage at
points of purchase and again for return sales,” Mr. Campbell says.

The NBA licensing agreement isn’t the first for the Campbells. Since 2015 the family has entered into licensing agreements with a variety of firms such as the Walt Disney Company to reach new customers.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture grapes represent a $6 billion crop in the U.S. with more than
seven million tons produced each year between 2015 and 2018, mostly in California. Blanc Vineyards is a joint venture between Four Star Fruit
Inc. and Delano Farms Inc. that began in 2010 in Delano, after growing grapes in Kern County for decades. This partnership gives both companies exclusive rights to grow and distribute Pristine variety grapes. The companies sell grapes from May to January and ship a combined 20 million boxes annually.

https://files.constantcontact.com/2cb20f61601/934424d7-df32-4fa8-baf7-9c22b42ca2dd.pdf