Our View - Mandarin support now could reap rich future rewards

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Auburn’s Joanne Neft might very well have the hook to put Placer County’s mandarins on the map, but she can’t do it alone. On a quest to determine the health benefits of naturally occurring synephrine in the fruit, Neft and supporters deserve the backing of the county’s agricultural community, local tourism officials, economic development interests and open-space advocates. A Food and Drug Administration lab report on the fruit is due this July, but Neft said early indications are that synephrine – a natural decongestant – is present in sufficient quantities to hold the promise of marketing the orange as a natural allergy and cold fighter. On the surface, two very different visions of Placer County’s future are bumping up against each other as Neft — the former county agricultural marketing director — waits for the study results and starts campaigning for another more conclusive study. But it’s not really about McMansions vs. mandarins. The development of a nationally known brand has benefits that will filter through the community much like it has in the wine country north of San Francisco. Conditions are optimal for growing mandarins on 5-acre properties as well as larger, more established orchards. Trees add to the beauty of the landscape and can nestle into areas on hillsides that houses can’t. Given enough water, sunshine and attention, the fruit can and does already thrive. If the quest to link synephrine with mandarins turns out to be successful, demand for oranges and juice would escalate. That presents a healthy hope for open-space advocates but it would also be good for the agri-tourism industry — especially around the harvest season in late fall and early winter. A much-used saying is that tourism provides the ideal scenario — tourists visit, spend their money, and then leave. The growth of a homegrown industry in Placer County should also receive the support of the economic development community — not only because it has the potential to create jobs and expand local revenue streams but because it adds to the local persona and quality of life. The Napa wine country is a good example of an area that has grown with an eye on not only preserving but fostering agriculture while retaining a rural California feel that has proven attractive to tourists and potential residents alike. Open-space proponents can appreciate Neft’s vision of large-scale mandarin orchard activity in the foothills. That would put less pressure on farmers to sell their properties while encouraging smaller property owners to create their own orchards. A wide array of interests — both town and country — need to get behind the effort early on to help grow a success story. For all the right reasons, the foundations being established now could position the county’s mandarin crop for decades to come as the go-to fruit in the collective consciousness of cold and allergy sufferers.