Valley’s first organic citrus packing shed to be built in Westmorland

Traffic passes along Westmorland’s main street, including industrial and agricultural transportation. The proprosed location for an organic citrus packing shed would make Westmorland a hub for citrus farmers looking to pack their organic produce locally.  Photo by Brett Miller.

EL CENTRO — The Imperial County Board of Supervisors approved a $500,000 agricultural benefit loan April 18 for the construction of a packing shed in Westmorland, California dedicated to processing organic citrus produce, the first of it’s kind in the Imperial Valley. The loan applicant, Patrick Dockstader of Doc’s Organics, originally requested $1.5 million and asked the Board to consider authorizing the amount, but questions arose concerning the increase corresponding to the estimated number of jobs created.

The project could be a substantial step in putting the Valley on the map when it comes to organic citrus produce.

“Currently we have to truck our citrus fruit out of the Valley to get packed,” said Gina Dockstader, representing Doc’ Organics, which operates 630 acres of organic citrus.

“You can’t pack in a normal packing house unless you wash everything down,” she said. “We just don’t have the facilities here.”

The packing shed will also offer its services to other organic citrus farmers in the Valley. The total cost of the of shed will amount to an estimated $7 million.

The agriculture benefit advisory sub-committee recommended the Board to authorize $500,000 instead of the requested $1,500,000 based on the ratio of jobs created to the amount requested was lower than loans authorized by the Board in the past.

“The loan amount recommended to the Board of Supervisors is less than originally requested by the applicant,” said Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz.

“The committee reduced the amount as the ratio of jobs created to the original requested amount was low compared to other loan awarded by the committee,” he said.

Ortiz cited that the loan amount ratio to expected number of jobs created should equate to $25,000 per job, less than previous agricultural loans awarded by the Board in the past. He also noted that the Board had historically authorized loan amounts higher than recommended by the committee.

Supervisor Luis Plancarte was supportive of the project, but was uncomfortable about the process involved concerning the loan amount was recommended after Ortiz noted that the committee, strictly speaking, was not allowed to award a loan above $300,000.

“I’m just finding out for the first time that they have a limit of $300,000,” said Plancarte, though he would permit the committee awarding a higher amount. Yet, the request he reviewed was for $500,000, and if that amount increased, Plancarte wanted more time to review the proposal.

“I’m happy to look at it differently a week from now if additional information becomes available,” said Plancarte.

Supervisor Ryan Kelley suggested that the number of jobs created by a project had historically been used to decide what percentage of a loan would be forgiven if certain goals were met. However, the number of jobs created usually didn’t decide the limit of the loan itself.

“I think that would have more of an impact on the loan forgiveness portion,” Kelley said. He also noted the growth of the citrus industry in Imperial County, and saw the shed as a significant step forward.

“It will have an impact in the overall industry for orchards and date production in the Imperial County,” said Kelley.

The project is going to happen,” said Dockstader, regardless if the full amount was awarded. “We are moving forward on this.”