Citrus giant Paramount grows ties to Fresno State

Fresno State has developed a reputation of graduating a steady supply of highly skilled winemakers. Now, one of the nation's top citrus growers hopes to cultivate a pipeline of citrus specialists.

Paramount Citrus, based in Delano, is looking to the Advanced Teaching and Research Field Laboratory for Citriculture at California State University, Fresno, to help develop a trained work force for the state's $1.6 billion citrus industry.

Paramount provided $200,000 to help create the program in 2007. The money was used to develop a 20-acre citrus ranch that was recently completed.

The farm uses the latest in water-saving irrigation, will supply citrus to the on-campus Rue and Gwen Gibson Farm Market and provide research opportunities.

As part of the program, Paramount also funds a citrus fellowship that provides a student an in-depth experience of tending the campus grove and working at S&J Ranches in Madera, a division of Paramount Farms. Its second fellow began in November.

"The industry has been lacking people with management skills, technical ability and who know the art of citriculture," said Kevin Olsen, vice president of S&J Ranches. "We really need people who can function in this industry."

Paramount Citrus farms about 30,000 acres of clementine mandarins, navel and Valencia oranges, lemons and other citrus varieties.

Olsen said the citrus industry is growing but it also faces many challenges, including how to remain profitable as production costs continue to rise.

"We also must learn how to become as efficient as possible with our water use," Olsen said. "And we face insect challenges with the Asian citrus psyllid."

The psyllid is among the citrus industry's most-feared pests because of the potential for carrying the tree-killing disease known as citrus greening.

Ganesan Srinivasan, director of the University Agricultural Laboratory, said Fresno State's citrus farm uses a Web-based irrigation system that can measure the soil's moisture level and provide water where and when it is necessary.

Srinivasan said the farm also can be used to conduct trials on applying different fertilizer levels and adding soil amendments to improve yields and quality.

Charles Boyer, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, is hoping Fresno State can partner with other agriculture industries to develop more training programs.

"It really helps us stay current on the cutting edge of what is happening in agriculture," Boyer said, "and allows us to do a better job of preparing students."