What is in this article?:
- Family walnut business thrives with custom services
- Walnut processing: 5,000 tons annually
- Following nuts from field to handler
- Recycling bolsters bottom line
- Fedora Farms, Inc., a mutli-faceted operation near Meridian, Calif., offers a variety of custom services to other growers.
- Fully automated 22-ton per hour hullder, drier busy season-long.
- Electronic bar coding improves crop traceability.
- Family provides custom planting services using state-of-art GPS planting system.
Following nuts from field to handler
Brian and Chris, both University of California, Davis ag school graduates, designed the bin drying facility. It features 70 drying bins, each with a 4-ton capacity, plus a 12,000-gallon propane storage tank and a custom-built fully-automated drying system. These dryers are another key part of the Fedoras’ customer-focused approach to business.
“For every point below 8 percent moisture, a grower loses 50 pounds of weight per ton of nuts when they sell them,” Sib says. “So, we try to dry the nuts as close to 8 percent as possible. Our automated dryers take out the guesswork by automatically shutting off when the nuts dry down to 8 percent moisture.”
The Fedoras are working with Woodside Electronics Corp., Woodland, Calif., to develop a wireless communication system, using smart phones or laptop computers, for identifying and following a load of nuts from the field to the handler who packages the nuts for wholesalers and retailers.
“Because of food safety concerns, traceability of product is becoming important for all food producers,” Sib says. “With this technology, we’re trying to stay ahead of the game and prevent any problems with walnuts.”
This new system is based on a bar code label attached to a trailer load of nuts before it leaves the orchard. As Chris explains, this bar code can be used to record such information as the grower’s name, date harvested, location of the field and variety. When the trailer arrives at the huller, he uses a scanner to read the label and download the information into his laptop computer. There, he can add more details to the bar code as it follows the load of nuts through the huller, into the drying bins and onto the truck that eventually hauls the nuts to the handler. This added information can include time in and out of the huller and moisture levels before and after drying.
“Whatever we need to know about that load of nuts we can put it on the bar code label,” Chris says. “This will give growers up-to-the-minute information about the status of their nuts in our facility. Also, if there’s any question about the nuts later in the marketing process and we know what lot the nuts came from, we can trace them all the way back to the field where they were grown.”
The Fedoras have been providing custom tree planting services using GPS technology for the past seven years. They’ve equipped each of two tractors — a four-wheel drive John Deere 7810 and a John Deere 8520 track machine — with a Trimble automated steering system. The tractors pull a custom-built, 60-foot wide, hydraulically-operated marker to cross-mark the field. It is used to plant almond, peach and prune tree, as well as walnuts.
“This system requires no survey, and we can plant 30 acres a day with sub-inch accuracy,” Sib says.
But speed and elimination of survey and hand-planting costs aren’t the only benefits. “This system also produces higher tree survival rates,” he adds. “Unlike a hand crew, the machines don’t get tired or cut roots to making planting easier in harder soils. Unlike using hand labor, where trees may lie around for an hour while their roots dry before they get planted, we can pull a tree out of the van with wet roots and have it in the ground within 15 or 20 minutes. Also, the planters put the tree root ball into the ground in relatively undisturbed soils. It’s a more natural setting than an augered hole, in which the sides may glaze over and make it difficult for roots to penetrate.”
Brian notes another payoff from this service. “Many of the growers who hire us are new to the orchard business,” he says. “Often, because of our experience, once the walnut trees start producing, they want us to do the harvesting, hulling and drying.”