By Nancy Vigran
Reporter for the Sun-Gazette
VISALIA – The City of Visalia is currently accepting proposals for management of its agricultural interests.
Visalia owns more than 1,200 acres mostly planted in walnuts with some pecans and some currently open land. A thousand of those acres are around the City’s wastewater treatment plant. Another 212 acres are on the east side just north of Highway 198 and the flea market area, according to Councilman Greg Collins. The remaining 15 acres in walnuts are also along Highway 198, but toward the west side of city limits.
“It is not unusual for cities to own agricultural land,” Collins said.
At the Dec. 17 City Council meeting, council members voted to enter into contracts with HNH Nut Company and Naked Nut Growers to each market one-half of Visalia’s 2018 pecan crop. This came up due to changes in food safety regulations which those outside processing companies could meet. Coming late in the season, staff felt it was advantageous to split the harvest between the two companies.
Recently, the City has also hired a consulting firm to analyze all of its agricultural land with regard to the variety of nuts grown, the age of the trees, and potential future use of some of the property.
The property to the east has walnut trees more than 40 years old and is planted in varieties of that era. The City has questions as to whether it should make any changes to the existing trees for better production and project higher income. However, the long-term use of that property is not solely for growing nuts.
“It has a three-fold application,” Collins said. “[First for] holding it in agriculture, farming it, harvesting it, and selling the nuts.”
Secondly, “some trees will be removed for sink basins during wet years to recharge the ground water,” he said.
And lastly, in the long-term part of the site is also destined for an east side community park. But that may not come about for five years or longer, Collins added.
The first of the sink, or ponding basins is projected for the near future and will require removal of some trees. However, a longer term strategy needs to be in place for the rest of the acreage.
The 1,000-acres surrounding the wastewater treatment plant is to remain planted in nut trees.
The trees form a buffer zone protecting the $145 million plant, Collins said, while also earning money for the City. Here, the City is also able to utilize some treated water from the plant for irrigation purposes, reducing irrigation expense. But, how long the existing trees should remain, or whether some of them should be replaced is another part of what the consulting firm is looking at. The trees located on 15 acres near the highway along Visalia’s west side are also being evaluated.
Blain Farms has had an agreement with and has been farming the City’s trees through 2018, but the City is currently accepting offers and proposals from any interested farming contractors. It is open, Collins said, to full leases of the property, or agreements for farming with split profits to the city.
“We want it properly farmed with as much return as possible for the public,” Collins said.