Clovis News

A brighter year for Valley's tree fruit farmers

One year ago: A weak economy, tough competition and low prices hit central San Joaquin Valley tree fruit growers hard and led to the demise of several longtime packinghouses.

Today: A manageable crop, better quality and newer markets are helping most tree fruit farmers gain more stable footing.

This season, farmers are expected to produce 46.8 million boxes of peaches, plums and nectarines. The crop size is about the same as last year, but much smaller than the record 59 million boxes produced in 2008.

But not all is going smoothly. The sale of peaches is sluggish compared to plums and nectarines, whose supply is dominated by California growers. Peaches are grown nationwide and this year growers produced a bumper crop.

"We are competing against a lot of different parts of the country," said Atomic Torosian, a produce broker with Crown Jewels Marketing in Fresno.

Grocery stores catering to ethnic consumers and neighborhood-themed markets such as Fresh and Easy have become new buyers of California tree fruit.

Industry officials also do not expect any packinghouses to close this season.

-- Robert Rodriguez

Cold case takes toll

One year ago: Ten years after Sandra Kerby's disappearance, mother Bette Shearman said she still suspects Sandra's husband and wants her granddaughter to keep the campaign alive until the case is solved.

Today: Shearman, now nearly 91, is in a nursing home, said granddaughter Michelle Kerby, 44.

The media blitz of stories about Sandra Kerby's disappearance contributed to Shearman having a stroke in the fall, Kerby said. She also suffers from dementia.

Police Lt. Mark Salazar said Thursday that Sandra Kerby's disappearance from a River Park shopping center remains an ongoing investigation.

A telephone call to Sandra's husband Frank Kerby was not returned. He has never been arrested or named a suspect in the case.

Michelle Kerby said she stays in touch with her father but doesn't talk with him about her mother's disappearance. She last spoke with police detectives in November. "We talked four hours. It was draining."

-- Pablo Lopez

Swine flu quiets

One year ago: Cheng Yang, a 28-year-old Fresno man, was the first person in Fresno County to die of swine flu, which sickened many others.

Today: Swine flu activity appears to be lower this year -- so far.

By the end of 2009, 592 people statewide had died as a result of the H1N1 virus. In the central San Joaquin Valley, 38 died.When the pandemic flu vaccine arrived in the fall, people lined up in droves.

So far this summer, there's not been much swine-flu activity reported in Fresno County, health official David Luchini said.When flu vaccine is available this fall, the H1N1 vaccine will be included in the seasonal shot, he said.

-- Barbara Anderson

Senior services saved

One year ago: A tight budget forced Clovis to cut funding for its senior services program from $284,000 to $10,000 and to seek donations.

Today: With an improved fiscal picture this year, the city was able to budget $150,000 for the senior center.

The city's bleak financial situation forced officials to slash all but the most essential services and jeopardized the popular senior services program.

To the rescue came Wanda and B.C. "Bing" Bingham, once owners of the Toyota dealership in Clovis. Their $50,000 donation was the catalyst for a second $50,000 contribution from an anonymous donor. Last year, the city received more than $113,000 in donations, said Shonna Halterman, general services manager.

This year the city allocated $150,000 for the senior center, far less than two years ago but better than last year. Fewer employees at the center means lower staffing costs, Halterman said.

-- Marc Benjamin

Children find new help

One year ago: Some emotionally disturbed children in Fresno County faced the possibility of going without counseling services.

Today: The county used its own counselors and contractors for services.

Fresno County supervisors ordered county departments to stop contracting with Genesis Family Center because of embezzlement and lavish spending. But after a county official gave a contract to another agency without competitive bidding, the county faced a gap in service until the contract was properly awarded.

Instead, county case workers and clinicians met with Genesis officials to discuss 157 children who were receiving service from Genesis last year; 56 were deemed ready for discharge and 75 were served by county programs or contract programs, Behavioral Health Director Donna Taylor said.

-- Brad Branan

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