Nut farm awaits approval of Oakdale Irrigation District annexation

jholland@modbee.comJuly 22, 2013 

Jardine Sunday column

JEFF JARDINE / Orchards on one side of the fence, cattle grazing land on the other. Almonds, grapes and other crops are taking over the wide open spaces of eastern Stanislaus County. Trinitas Farming, a Bay Area investment group, alone has 7,234 arces of which about 6,500 will eventually become almond orchards. This represents a dramatic shift in land use, production, profits and value. Taken Oct. 30, 2012.

JEFF JARDINE — Modesto Bee

    alternate textJohn Holland
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Agriculture, Turlock; local news editor on Sundays
    Bio: John Holland has been a reporter at The Bee for 12 years. He has a journalism degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and previously worked at the Union Democrat in Sonora and the Visalia Times-Delta.
    Recent stories written by John

— A panel could give final approval Wednesday evening to a major expansion of nut farming in Stanislaus County's eastern hills.

The Stanislaus Local Agency Formation Commission will consider a proposal to annex 7,296 acres of new and planned almond and walnut orchards to the Oakdale Irrigation District, which would supply them with water.

The proposal, involving land owned by Trinitas Partners LLC of Menlo Park, is a big deal for a couple of reasons.

It would be a notable increase in nut acreage in the county, already a leader in these booming enterprises. The county had 99,301 acres of almonds alone as of 2011, a figure that is certain to be larger when its 2012 crop report is released this morning.

The Trinitas plan pleases people who say that if extra water is sitting around, it should go to expanded farming. The OID has offered to sell some of its Stanislaus River supply to San Francisco, an idea that failed at the neighboring Modesto Irrigation District last year.

The OID board in April approved the terms of the sale to Trinitas, which has acquired former grazing land between the district's eastern boundary and Knights Ferry.

The district could suspend the deliveries during drought, when Trinitas would have to rely on its wells. The supply could be reduced during the summer of any year if demand overtaxes the capacity of the South Main Canal.

Trinitas would pay $2,600 per acre to annex to the district, then yearly fees for water. This includes a $19.50 flat fee per acre and $55 for each acre-foot used. The acre-foot charge would rise 1.5 percent per year.

The OID now charges its farmers a flat $19.50 per acre, which provides as much water as can be reasonably used.

The district has water to sell thanks to conservation efforts and development of some of its farmland.

Sales keep farmer rates low

Past transfers have ranged from a multiyear deal with a Stockton-area water district to a one-time sale this spring to drought-stressed parts of the western San Joaquin Valley. The OID is working on a long-term sale to the Bay Area city of Brisbane and has offered dry-year supplements to San Francisco, the MID and the Turlock Irrigation District.

The sale proceeds have helped keep rates low for OID farmers and pay for upgrades to the canal system.

The Trinitas annexation would increase the OID's territory, now about 55,000 acres, by 13 percent.

LAFCo rules on the boundaries and functions of agencies. Its staff recommends approval of the annexation, after finding that it would not have major impacts on water supplies or other concerns.

The commission includes Bill O'Brien and Jim DeMartini from the county Board of Supervisors; Amy Bublak from the Turlock City Council; Waterford Mayor Charlie Goeken, and public member Brad Hawn.

The commission will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at or (209) 578-2385.

What's it all worth?

The 2012 crop report for Stanislaus County, a key gauge of agriculture's health, is scheduled to be released at 9 a.m. today.

The big question: Will gross income top the record $3.07 billion in 2011? For complete coverage, visit this morning or read Wednesday's Modesto Bee.

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