“We embrace technology,” says Sutter County farmer Sib Fedora. “It improves our efficiency and produces higher returns.”

Fedora, his wife, Margaret, and their two sons, Brian and Chris, own Fedora Farms, Inc., a mutli-faceted operation near Meridian, Calif. The farm combines 600 acres of walnuts along with several other crops and offers a variety of custom farming services.

The technology they employ ranges from pneumatic shears, which allow crews to prune more trees quicker with less effort, to a 22-ton per hour hulling facility and fully-automated drying bins. It also includes their latest project — working with an electronics firm to develop a bar coding system for tracking a trailer load of nuts from the field to the walnut handler. It’s all designed to maximize profits for the Fedora’s and their grower-customers.

“If we can provide a level of service that others can’t, we’ll get more clients and more tonnage to process,” says Sib. “Our goal is putting out the best product we can, whether it’s ours or one of our customers,”

That’s where the technology comes in. “It enables us to achieve the highest possible grade so growers can get the best possible price for their nuts,” he explains.

The capacity to take on more tonnage is another important asset in their hulling business. It helped earn a new customer in the fall of 2009, when wet weather made harvesting and hulling operations particularly challenging. The grower’s huller operator at the time was unable to process his walnuts in a timely fashion. So, he sent a load to the Fedoras for hulling and drying

“After his handler got the first shipment from us, the customer told us that he had never received such good grades for his walnuts,” Sib says.

The Fedoras are producing walnuts 400 acres of Chandler, Blackmer, Hartley, Howard, Serr and Tehama varieties. They have another 200 acres of younger trees along the Sacramento River, They also row crop grow wheat, blackeye and baby lima beans, safflower and sunflowers. In addition to hulling and drying walnuts, their list of custom services includes orchard management, planting fruit and nut trees using GPS technology and pruning, spraying and harvesting walnuts. Their clients, whose operations range in size from about 10 to 500 acres, are located on both sides of the Sacramento Valley from Knights Landing in the south to the Chico area in the north.

Although Sib had long done a little custom hulling and drying of walnuts, he began seeing opportunities to expand the operation in the early 1990s. Up until then, even small mom-and-pop growers had their own huller-dryer, he notes. However, this aging equipment was starting to break down and many growers couldn’t justify the much higher cost of the latest hulling and drying machinery to replace the worn out units. Also, at about that same time, many new walnut orchards were beginning to produce significantly. So, Sib installed a new, larger huller and saw his hulling capacity jump from 1,000 nuts per hour with his previous equipment to 5 tons per hour with his new line.

“We thought we might be able to make the huller profitable by growing this side of our business,” he says.

In 1996, he put up a new building for handling nuts in bulk rather than in 1,100-pound capacity bins and installed pits for receiving the nuts. He also replaced his 11 harvest buggies, each of which held about 4,000 to 5,000 pounds of nuts with three sets of 25-ton capacity double-trailers.

At the time, the Fedoras were growing 150 acres of walnuts. Harvesting operations kept at least two pickup trucks running all day long pulling the nut buggies between the field and the huller, Sib says. Switching to the trailers and the bulk handling really made a difference.

“A neighbor who had his own huller and dryer happened to be driving by just as we pulled over the pits to dump our very first trailer load of nuts,” Sib recalls. “He drove into the yard and told us he was tired of fooling with his nut buggies and that we could hull and dry all of his nuts. That’s how we got started with a custom work in a serious way.”