Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Thrilled to be back in Northern CA

I was back in northern CA to keynote the Tri-County (Butte, Glenn and Tehama Counties) Economic Forecast Conference in Chico, CA. Northern California is a wonderfully diverse area that encompasses 1/3 of the land area of the state but less than 5% of its population. From ocean beaches to soaring mountain peaks and wonderfully rich farmland to rugged mountain canyons, you can find it all in that part of the state.

Dan Ripke, head of ED for the region at Chico State took me on a flying tour of the three counties, landing in Willows, Red Bluff (an agurb®) and Corning. It was a great way to get a flavor for the vastness of the region and the wonderful diversity of crops grown. The most profitable crop the past few years have been almonds, although it is pronounced without the ‘L’ in northern CA. Thinking that perhaps my hearing was going, I asked why and was told by Dan, “When they harvest amonds, they shake the base of the tree to shake the nuts out. Out here we’ve shaken the ‘l’ out of them.”

While Chico is a much larger college town, the other three are traditional farming towns that have both diversified their crops and their economies over time. And from what I saw the innovation hasn’t stopped. We saw new plantings of olives in windrows for olive oil production (with a new crushing plant being built); growing organic production of rice, almonds and other crops; mega dairies; citrus production; specialty cheese (Pedrozo Cheese); and other interesting crops (the area is number one in queen bee production—you can’t raise almonds with or without the ‘l’ without them).

Olive Pit was one of the first ag niche companies in the region. Pete and Ann Craig started a hamburger stand over 40 years ago, naming it The Olive Pit, after the major crop in Corning, CA. Travelers would come off of I-5 thinking that they were going to find an olive store, so the Craig’s added olives. While they still will sell you a hamburger at the Olive Pit, today they ship olives all over the world and from the look of their store olives make up 90% of their business.

I’ll be back in Red Bluff and Tehama County, CA in March. More details on their wonderfully diverse ag economy after that visit.

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