By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
VISALIA – If you had to guess who the top pecan grower is in Tulare County names like Paramount, Premier, and South Valley Farms may come to mind. But none of the agribusiness giants has cracked the Tulare County pecan market quite like the City of Visalia. And their staff did it without really trying.
Last year, the city quietly realized it had become a large grower in the Tulare County market. The city owns 1,200 acres, primarily planted with nut crops, on the western and eastern boundaries of town. The City of Visalia is already the largest pecan growing in Tulare County, which is among one of the most productive pecan regions in the state. More than half of the city’s 800 acres is planted with pecans, making the city’s 445 acres near the Visalia Airport and 120 acres along Tower Road two-thirds of all of the pecan bearing acreage in Tulare County. The area between Visalia and Clovis makes up about half of the state’s pecan production.
In addition to pecans, Deputy City Manager Mario Cifuentez says the city farms about 400 acres of row crops that are slated to be replanted with pistachios and walnuts and 138 acres of existing walnuts on the city’s west side. The city also owns 112 acres of walnuts on the east side.
“We are not farmers and have been doing this by hook and by crook,” said Cifuentez. “It’s all been a little willy nilly. Now we are taking it a little more seriously.”
In December, the city sent out a request for proposal for a short-term, farm management contract. Seven local farm managers received letters and three submitted proposals. The proposals were reviewed by Cifuentez, who oversees the city’s properties, Assistant City Manager Leslie Caviglia, who is involved in farming operations in the Visalia area and Salinas Valley, and Adi Bock, a long-time local nut grower.
At the Feb. 19 city council meeting, the committee recommended that Jeb Headrick Farming be awarded the contract based on Headrick’s experience in walnuts and pistachios, the vertical integration of his current farming operations, and the equipment and labor that he has readily available to assume the contract within a short timeframe. Based on a thorough review of the City’s nut crops, Headrick recommended that a substantial amount of work be put in during the first few months in order to get the acreage in a healthy state of growth, such as crop selection and rotation, and proper fertilizer and pesticide application.
The contract was not to exceed $1 million for the year. Cifuentez said the city is already working on a request for proposals to have one contactor handle its farm management long-term sometime later this year.