Site Visit: Advocacy Learns about Walnut Grower and Processor in California
By Bruce Lundegren, Assistant Chief Counsel
While California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley might be more famous for its production of almonds and other commodities, the area also produces over one billion dollars of walnuts each year. For that reason, Advocacy staff visited the Great Pacific Nut Company in Westley, just outside of Modesto.
Great Pacific Nut Company – a small business with 12 full-time employees – was founded in 2012 by Dan Hepler and Chris Reece. Dan and Chris run the processing side of the business while Chris’s brother Zac oversees the planting and harvesting of the walnuts.
The journey began on land that has been farmed by Zac’s family for several generations. In 2005 they planted 40 acres of walnuts to add to their other plantings. Walnuts are time-consuming to farm, as it takes about four to five years from the time a walnut tree is planted until it produces its first yield. Zac and his family have slowly expanded their walnut plantings from the original 40 acres to over 250 acres today.
Walnut harvesting involves mechanically shaking the nuts from the trees and then scooping them up with harvesters. Harvested nuts are taken to a “huller” that removes the green hulls from the shell and then dries the nuts in gas dryers (until they reach the appropriate moisture content). When dry, the nuts are ready for storage or processing. Processing involves cracking the nuts, separating them by size and quality, and then packaging them for shipment. Great Pacific’s walnuts are sold shelled or unshelled, in bulk. However, walnuts, like other tree nuts, must be processed and stored properly, as poor storage can make walnuts susceptible to insects and fungal mold. California producers and processors like Great Pacific are held to strict food handling and safety practices.
Great Pacific processes all of its own walnuts plus those of some thirty other area growers. About 90 percent of their production is exported abroad where high quality walnuts fetch premium prices. Their largest export markets are to Turkey, Germany, South Korea, and other countries. Domestic walnuts are sold for personal consumption as well as to candy and snack manufacturers.
Dan and his partners at Great Pacific are excited about the future. They are planning to build a new processing plant for the 2019 season as they are quickly outgrowing their current facility.
Advocacy was in Modesto, Sacramento and Santa Clarita, Calif. for Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtable meetings April 30-May 3.
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Bruce Lundegren is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes safety, transportation, and security. Lundegren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.