Instead of closing its doors in bankruptcy, Premier Mushrooms is selling its assets to a Colorado mushroom company who hopes to sustain competitive operations in California by doubling production.
The Colusa County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 on April 30 to forgive a $4.6 million loan that Premier Mushrooms owes the taxpayer-funded Community Development Block Grant program in order to try and save jobs and other benefits that trickle down in the community.
Supervisor Merced Corona was the lone dissent in the decision, but Community Services Director Greg Plucker said Colusa County would have lost the money the company owns anyway if Premier Mushroom simply closed its doors and walked away.
Plucker said Colusa County is second to Farm Credit West, which is owned considerably more than the $15.5 million selling price to Rakhra Mushrooms.
“Basically there is no money left after what the primary note holder takes,” Plucker said.
Premier Mushrooms has been one of the largest private-sector employers in Colusa County for a number of years, with about 250 employees, but county officials said the company has restructured the debt several times and has never been able to make a payment on the principal.
Rakhra, based in Alamosa, Colo., has had financial struggles of its own. The company filed bankruptcy in 2013, but reemerged as Colorado Mushroom Farm as demand for mushrooms began to grow.
California is the largest consumers of mushrooms, and Rakhra officials said the purchase of Premier Mushrooms is just the first step in long range plans to grow operations in the U.S. and Canada.
According to Baljit Nanda, the owner and operator of the farm, the company proposes to expand the growing area within the first 18 months and implement composting improvements that reduce the growing cycle of mushrooms from eight to six weeks.
By year four, the company plans to expand production capacity to 100,000 feet of growing area with a production of 39 million pounds, Nanda said, in a written report to the county.
Despite Premier Mushroom’s history of being a good community partner to local non-profit organizations, as noted by Colusa resident Jim White at last week’s public hearing, residents who live near the plant are still raising a stink about the odor, and said they would be happier if composting operations so close to homes just ended.
“We to this day are affected by the smell,” said Larry Harris.
Harris urged the Board of Supervisors not to forgive the loan just as a way to keep the plant open. He said with a booming economy, it was likely those who worked at Premier Mushroom would finds jobs elsewhere.
Rakaia officials have secured about $25 million to acquire the mushroom plant and make the first phase of improvements, officials said.
The company plans to retain the existing leadership and operational staff, and then substantially grow the number of overall employees to support double the current operation, officials said. ■