Valley farmers voice concern over Western Farm Lands



EL CENTRO – At their regular meeting Tuesday, June 25, IID Board of Directors heard area farmers voice their concerns over the rejected sale of 14,000 acres of farmland that the IID owns.

A partnership of two North Carolina companies presented to the IID Board why the land should be sold to them.

Their offer was rejected.

The presenters expressed the interest to partner with the IID by acquiring the farmland for improvement, development, and community growth. They want to install pivot irrigation systems and become a premier model for water conservation and farming techniques in the Imperial Valley. This includes creating jobs, commerce, tax sources, and future farming leaders in the Valley.

The IID meeting was attended by numerous Imperial Valley farmers that were not in favor of selling to the North Carolina group. They want to IID to open the bidding of the farmland to local farmers, some of which are tenant farming some of the 14,000 acres, if the land goes up for sale.

In the absence of IID Board President James Hanks, Vice President Stephen Benson opened the floor to comments.

“We ask that the Board stick to their transparency on these types of projects,” said David Schoneman, Holtville farmer. “Make the opportunity open to everyone. Quite honestly, at the prices offered by this company, everyone in this room would be buying up this ground. It would be picked up in a heartbeat.”

The offer was $5,000 per acre. It is thought the land is worth at least $6,000 per acre or more.

Charles Slater, Brawley farmer said, “I don’t see the advantage of selling to these people in North Carolina. You have local farmers employing local families to do the job. I don’t know how they can benefit the Valley any more than the local farmers here. If the District wants to sell, why don’t they open it up to the tenants that have a history here? This land has been profitable for the District and they can control the water for transfers. We all know the ground is worth more than $5,000.”

Director Benson said, “We initially rejected the offer. Director Hanks is adamant about holding this land within the District. We have tenants on these grounds that are working with us and some of the land is in the fallowing program. We are moving forward to having more discussion about what to do with this land.”

Director Bruce Kuhn said, “I was the swing vote on the QSA and this land deal. I got fired over it. It wasn’t funny. Now, it’s worth $100 million and it’s paid for. It wasn’t such a bad deal after all.”

“We hope that you would consider opening up the sale of this land in the future to local farmers, especially those that are farming in this area,” said Linsey Dale, Imperial County Farm Bureau Director. “Our growers are contributing to our economy right now, as well as all of the points covered like family and collaboration, etc.”

“We have been tenants of IID’s Western Farmlands,” said Ralph Strahm, Holtville farmer. “I congratulate Director Kuhn on his foresight.”