Farming is big business in the 209 … and the Ag Center is helping those in the business succeed.
With an original location on Highway 59 in Merced and now a second site off Highway 99 in Tulare, the Ag Center bills itself as “California’s One Stop Shop” for farmers and growers, with a multitude of services under one roof.
From water security to crop management, land acquisition to financing, asset management, marketing services, development services and amendment services, it’s likely whatever the farmers in the community need, they will find it at the Ag Center.
The Merced site basically reaches the Modesto, Merced and Madera areas; the Tulare site is geared to farmers in the Fresno, Tulare and Bakersfield areas.
It’s all about streamlining and convenience, saving time for farmers to increase productivity, said Program Coordinator/Marketing Director Sara VanderPoel.
“We opened on Highway 59 in 2018,” VanderPoel said, noting that the idea grew from a couple of different companies that worked together within the farming community, believing it would be beneficial to be at the same location.
Other companies soon wanted to join in, she explained, and the idea for the Ag Center really took root, with Doug Brunner the official founder of the Ag Center. The Merced site opened in April 2018.
“It morphed into the Ag Center and we now have 24 companies affiliated with us,” VanderPoel said of that original idea of cooperation.
The Merced site quickly became an established ‘go to’ for farmers and growers throughout the Central Valley. Given the expansive coverage area, the decision was made to open a second location a little further to the south. In January 2021, a second site opened in Tulare, “right off the 99,” said VanderPoel.
Whether it is a farmer looking for gypsum for his fields or someone seeking information about financing a land acquisition, those are questions that can be answered at the Ag Center.
One of the biggest benefits, VanderPoel added, is the amount of time that can be saved for farmers and growers, as they can get valuable information and connections to established businesses with a phone call or a visit to the Ag Center site.
“They can go to leaders in the industry. They don’t have to do the vetting process,” VanderPoel said. “We have people reach out to us on Instagram; people can come in and ask questions.”
She said even if a company does not have the right equipment, service or information to meet the needs of a particular farmer or grower, they can point them in the right direction.
Each company under the umbrella of the Ag Center has its own individual staff, said VanderPoel, and many of the companies do have a physical staff on site at ‘The 59’ location in Merced. Others can be contacted through the Ag Center but may have their own office at a different site, though the center can serve as a clearinghouse for the needed information.
The Ag Center can help farmers focus on key areas of concern, including water, labor, an aging agriculture population and time management. Water conservation and compliance companies are part of the center, while there is also an HR firm to assist with employment issues. Recruiting and retaining younger farmers is a goal as well, along with assisting farmers and growers to expedite solutions for those unexpected problems that can hamper their production schedule.
There are a half dozen program coordinators for the center, able to link farmers and growers with any of the more than 20 affiliated companies that can help with their specific situation.
Above all, the Ag Center prides itself on being a “problem solver” – helping the region’s growers address a variety of concerns with fact-based information and time-proven methods.