Over the past three decades, Steve Schafer and his brother, Mike, have combined individual skills, talents and interests to expand their Madera County, Calif., family farm into an enterprise that now encompasses 1,700 acres of almonds, 2,100 acres of wine and raisin grapes and 120 acres of pomegranates. That includes orchards and vineyards they manage for others.

Their father, Corky, who still keeps an eye on his sons, started farming in the early 1950s on 40 acres of rented ground near Biola, Calif. In 1969, he planted the family’s first almond trees.

Today, Mike is in charge of the almond side of the Schafer Ranch operation, while Steve looks after the grapes and pomegranates. Meanwhile, Mike’s son, Brian, is the third generation of Schafers to farm. In addition to helping with much of the field work, he tends 40 acres of his own almonds, which he planted two years ago, and manages 60 acres of Thompson seedless grapes for a neighbor.

Mike, who recently completed his 34th season as an almond grower, continues learning how to produce, harvest and market the crop. The topic of this year’s lesson was a better way to handle almonds when wet weather hits during harvest. “Every year I learn something about almonds,” he says. “This year I learned that it’s better to stockpile them on the ranch rather than wait for trucks when rain is coming. After three-quarters of an inch of rain, my uncovered (almond field-stored) pile was delivered within five days with no moisture issues.”

In early October, the weather forecast called for rain to move into the San Joaquin Valley in the next few days. As a result, growers scrambled to get the nuts off the ground, loaded into trailers and hauled to their hullers before the rain started. However, with the harvest going full steam, there weren’t enough trailers available to transport the Schafers’ crop to their huller.

Mike had two choices; leave the shaken crop on the orchard floor during the storm. That would mean waiting as long as two weeks for the ground and the nuts to dry before going back into the orchards to sweep, pick up and lay the nuts back down again and remove wet leaves and debris to help speed up the drying process. Or, he could get as many of the downed nuts out of the field before the storm hit and stockpile them until trucks became available to haul to the huller. Mike chose the latter.

“We picked up the nuts as hard as we could, running the harvesters late into the night,” he explains. “We got the nuts cleaned out of the fields and piled in the yard before the rain began. We ended up with a 3- to 5-inch thick layer of moist hulls on the outside of the pile. But, five days later, we scooped these wet nuts into the trailer where they blended in with the dry nuts and became a non-issue.

“While other growers were out in their fields after the storm and working the nuts, we hauled 27 loads into the processors. Our almonds went through the huller without any problems.  They were beautiful.”