Tim Merrill, sales and marketing manager for Omega Walnuts in Orland, Calif., designed the processing facility of premium walnuts. Construction started in early 2012 with its first walnuts for processing received later the same year.
Merrill hired Jake Cecil to manage the facility. Cecil comes from a walnut background and has worked in the past with Merrill as a farm manager. Aside from managing Omega Walnut’s plant operations, Cecil and his wife, Colleen, are busy planting new walnut orchards in the area.
“He is a very gifted individual,” Merrill said of Cecil.
According to Cecil, the processing facility was designed with efficiency of energy and labor in mind. The entire 38-plus acre parcel is wired and ready for three additional tank farms and several more buildings to house additional processing equipment as the company expands its processing capacity to 100 million pounds within the next several years.
“Everything here is ‘plug-and-play,’ meaning we have the pad and electrical conduit in place for the next tank farm,” Cecil said.
Pointing to the current tank farm and processing sheds, Cecil said “this will be replicated three more times out here.”
“Everything we’ve done here is in preparation for more expansion,” Cecil continued.
The large tank farms include various size tanks, which allow Omega to quickly receive walnuts and segregate them without co-mingling walnuts from different growers. Also different from other walnut operations, Cecil said Omega hired the Sacramento-based Dried Fruit Association (DFA), a third-party food inspection company to conduct all the receiving sampling and testing of walnuts in the facility.
“We wanted an arms-length relationship here,” Cecil said. “We want our growers to have an objective third-party inspecting their receiving samples.”
Omega’s commitment to excellent can be seen throughout the facility, from its state-of-the-art processing equipment that includes color sorters, X-ray machines and metal detectors, to its employment of DFA inspectors as an independent arm of its food safety efforts. This and the company’s commitment to seeking growers of quality walnuts resulted in 100 percent of last year’s loads being packed as a USDA No. 1 product.
“There were no commercial grades,” Merrill said. “Again, that is a compliment to our grower base.”
Their commitment to excellence can also be seen in the layout of the property and in the architecture and entry from the county road onto Omega’s property. When complete, the parcel will include 20 acres of walnuts along the north and east sides of the property.