Bank seizes California Rep. David Valadao’s family dairy farm over unpaid loans

A bank has seized a Tulare County dairy farm owned by Rep. David Valadao and his family to resolve more than $8 million in loans that have not been repaid, according to court documents.

In November, agriculture lender Rabobank sued Triple V Dairy in Fresno County Superior Court alleging failure to repay loans for cattle and feed totaling about $8.3 million. The Republican congressman is named in the suit along with his wife, four other family members, two other farms and 50 unnamed defendants. Also listed in the suit is a separate farm owned by the family, Lone Star Dairy, in which the congressman has no stake.

Both sides agreed March 28 to hand control of the farm over to the bank until it is sold. The bank appointed a local business owner to oversee the daily operations of the farm and begin to sell off livestock and farming equipment to settle the debt.

“Like so many family dairy farms across the country, burdensome government regulations made it impossible for the operation to remain open,” Valadao said in a statement. “While this has been an especially difficult experience, I remain hopeful that sharing my story will help those going through similar situations.”

The next court session in the case is scheduled for July 16.

House rules prohibit Valadao from having an active role in the day-to-day operations of the farm, which was largely managed by his brothers. Valadao lives on the property of Valadao Dairy near Hanford, which is managed by his father and is not involved in the lawsuit.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s annual summaries, almost 36% of dairy farms in California shut down between 2001 and 2017. In the last five years, at least 50 dairies in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties have closed.

Valadao grew up in the dairy business and in 1992 became a partner in the family’s Central Valley dairy. Lobbying for local agricultural interests through the California Milk Advisory Board and the Western States Dairy Trade Assn. spurred an interest in politics, and Valadao was elected to Congress after serving in the state Assembly.

Valadao’s stake in the Triple V and Valadao dairies has consistently made him one of the poorest members of Congress. According to his annual financial disclosure report, Valadao’s stake in each dairy is worth between $1 million and $5 million, but lines of credit against the farms and equipment give him an estimated net worth of negative $17.5 million.

Valadao is currently seeking a fourth term representing the 21st Congressional District, which stretches across rural portions of Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties.