The Imperial County Board of Supervisors on Feb. 5 approved a $2 million loan to the One World Beef meat processing plant in Brawley.
The 4-0 decision came at the request of the firm and the county will get land adjacent to the plant as collateral. Supervisor Jesus Escobar abstained stating he has a conflict of interest due to previous business dealings with the firm.
The funds will come from the county Agricultural Benefit Program that collects funds from solar farm developers to mitigate the loss of economic activity from farmland being converted to solar farms.
The decision to approve the loan comes just a week after the board established a new committee to address shortcomings in the operation of another long-standing committee that reviews Ag Benefit loan requests. The county will continue the program as established until potential changes are fully discussed and approved, Linsey J. Dale, county public information officer, stated in an email.
The funds will be used to finance the acquisition and improvements to a 132-acre parcel of land adjacent to the processing plant on Brawley’s far north side. This will allow One World Beef to discharge treated wastewater onto the neighboring farmland, thus reducing the quantity of water currently being discharged into Brawley’s sewer system.
Andy Horne, county deputy chief executive officer, told the board One World Beef has been reluctant to provide financial documents, stating doing so would make the information public and available to competitors.
“We sent a team to One World Beef in order to get the information from them regarding their financials,” Horne said. “Based on the information we received, there is sufficient cash flow to grant the loan.”
Horne added the will allow the firm to purchase land it is now leasing, along with paying for certain improvements that will allow OWB to apply treated discharge water from its plant.
The payments on the loan are projected to be approximately $8,000 a month. One World Beef is paying $12,200 per month to lease the property they are seeking to acquire.
“By purchasing the land, they would realize a savings of $4,200 a month in operating expenses,” Horne told the board.
County Agricultural Commissioner Carlos Ortiz told the board the Ag Benefit Committee met and unanimously voted to recommend the $2 million loan that will be repaid over 25 years.
The savings of purchase over lease and projected reductions in the sewer discharge fees will be sufficient to offset the loan payments due under the terms of the loan, county officials said.
This is not the first time One World Beef has obtained a loan through the Ag Benefit Program. In 2016 it received a $2.5 million loan that has a balance of $2,230,000. The firm subsequently reopened the facility that had been closed several years earlier by its previous owner and hired 350 people.
In 2017, Brawley approved a modified permit for OWB to temporarily discharge to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The temporary permit allowed the firm to use the city’s sewer plant for up for one year.
During that time the beef plant sought an agreement with a Chilean company called BioFiltro as a long-term solution that would allow its wastewater to be recycled and reused. The process would use wood chips and earthworms to filter the plant’s wastewater for eventual use in the field it is purchasing with the new loan.
The committee the board created on Jan. 29 to review the Ag Benefit Program includes Escobar and Supervisor Luis Plancarte. It will assess how to improve the lending part of the program and make modifications to the terms of loan agreements with the help of the lending institution.