Dole Food Co. Inc. in Westlake Village will shrink its Oxnard berry operations as part of a plan to move its farming operations out of Southern California, the company said in a recent letter to the state.
The agriculture business, which filed in April to become a publicly traded company again after being taken private in 2013, told the state’s Employment Development Department in a notice required by law when there will be large layoffs, that it plans to lay off 172 workers at 5701 W. Gonzales Road and cease pre-harvest and cooling operations there. That is part of a broader effort to close some of its berry operations in Southern California, Dole wrote.
The workforce reduction will be effective as of Oct. 6, according to Dole, which said it was operating through its subsidiaries, Dole Berry Co., DB South and Dole Fresh Vegetables. Dole will also not be hiring the seasonal workers it usually does for pre-harvest and harvesting of its berries.
Berry harvesting and cooling operations employees are represented by the United Farm Workers, Dole said.
According to Dole federal filings, the grower owns about 1,600 acres of land in California, Florida, North Carolina, Arizona and Ohio relating to vegetable and berry operations, and leases another 19,000 acres in California, other states and Mexico. It also owns cooling, distribution and processing facilities in Oxnard, other cities in California and other states.
The move out of Southern California may be part of a larger effort by Dole to shrink its presence in California. In its most recent filing, the company said regarding its pending purchase of the Dole Plantation in Hawaii, it “may structure such acquisition as a like-kind exchange for the Westlake Village, California executive office facility property.” Like-kind exchanges are essentially 1031 exchanges, according to the Internal Revenue Service, which allow property owners to avoid or delay paying taxes on properties they sell if they buy another equal-value property. Dole was referring to the Westlake Village property it owns.
No one was available at Dole to make a comment in time for publication.
Dole is not the only berry company to recently report closures of operations. Hidden Valley Berries in Ventura also told the state in July that it would close its Yamamoto Ranch strawberry operations at 2281 E. Hueneme Road in Oxnard “due to economic reasons and the loss of its lease effective July 1.” The layoffs were to affect about 42 employees and take place by the end of July.
Ventura County’s agriculture industry was worth $2.2 billion in 2015, the most recent figure available from the county’s Crop and Livestock Report. The leading crop in value is strawberries, which accounted for $618 million in sales in 2015, down by $10 million compared to the previous year.