Farm Fresh California Walnuts Both In Shells And Out
Joseph Weiler, seen above, was good enough to take us on a tour of Empire Nut Company in Colusa, California. The Fall is their busiest time of the year. California walnuts grow during the summer and are harvested in the fall.
There are close to 80 walnut handlers and packers in California. Empire Nut is competing to be the biggest and most important walnut processing operation in California. These businesses are competing for customers. Americans consume 40% of walnuts grown in California. About 60% of California walnuts are exported to other countries.
The History Of Empire Nut In California
Two sets of brothers started the Empire Nut Company. Specifically, the Nevus Brothers, Sam and Dominic, and the Tiara Brothers, Shindy and Gary, As shown in the picture above, these brothers founded Empire Nut Company in 2011. Before this, each of their families has been part of the California walnut industry since the mid-1900s.
Today, 60 people work at Empire Nut, which processes 2-3% of every walnut grown in California. These employees work hardest during the harvest season. Holding position, bringing the trucks in, running the holder and dryer, shipping the product, and getting it out quickly. Empire Nut started out with the holler and dryer. That was the first building, and then they added a sheller and the laser equipment to do the kernels. Recently, the cold storage buildings.
As a Sales Associate, Joseph Weiler is a welcome addition to an office full of Coordinators and Managers on the technical side of walnuts.
He has always had a love for walnuts. Previously, Joe lived in Chico, California. Living with his family in a walnut orchard. Kids ran through the orchard and had just a lot of fun.
To this day, none of his kids have had a nut allergy.
Walnut Harvest Season
As I am writing this blog, it is the end of the harvest season. The harvest began at the start of September and ended around the middle of November. The length of the harvest season depends on the water and the weather. Farmers know it’s time to harvest when the walnuts start to change at the end of the summer. The walnuts’ outer green hulls dry and start to split, allowing them to remove them from the inside.
Fall is the busiest time for the walnut industry. With the harvest coming in, the trucks coming in and out, cleaning rollers and dryers running 24 hours per day, and shipping products every day. Empire Nut needs the process to run smoothly, or the walnuts end up sitting on the orchard floor for too long. The trick is to get those walnuts swept up and to a facility in the shortest time possible.
Once at the facility in Colona, a number of the processes are automated. Going from one machine and process to another.
Processing Walnuts And Quality Control
Quality control is always people. They are in the front of the operation when the walnuts get through the first few rollers. Then, they are inspected after the cleaning process. The next part is steaming off the excess water. Finally, they are inspected before they are put in boxes for shipping or storage.
There are over 4,000 walnut growers in California, and a lot of them have ownership by the small families that operate them. A husband and wife and their children growing walnuts. Some of them have their own niche in their own community. Some are even known to still hand-crack the shells. That’s certainly an efficient and fun way to do it. But on an industrial level, machine processes have the walnuts look nicer and uniform.
Also, with a uniform process, you can get more unbroken walnut halves. Those are more in demand and expensive. Undoubtedly, a walnut half is unmistakable.
Challenges For The Future Of Empire Nut Walnuts
Water is certainly a vital issue for the future. Water distribution between the farmers and the people. Many farmers are facing difficulty getting water rights and watering their crops. Water allocation is certainly an issue. The government will consider that in the coming years. The economies of the United States and other countries will certainly be an issue. Inflation hits the rising cost of food more than any other category. Transportation and fuel are issues on the macro side.
Future prices should stay around the same level. Getting more domestic customers for California walnuts will offset a lot of these extra costs coming in the near future. Empire Nut sees the price for walnuts stabilized. This should be very sustainable for a lot of farmers.
In terms of price, everything is in a delicate balance. If you think of it as a tree and its branches. With a strong trunk and roots, the branches can’t grow faster.
Empire Nut considers the growers as the root. They like to think of the retailers as the branches. The handlers, including Empire Nut, as the trunk. They have to all work together.