Dignitaries in the almond industry and academia converged at California State University, Fresno on April 1 to dedicate the nation’s first working almond shelling and processing plant at a college or university. Years in development, the Western Agricultural Processors Association Tree Nut Processing Laboratory will provide students with first-hand experience in a commercial nut processing setting to help develop a trained work force for the tree nut industry in the Central Valley. The laboratory is a collaboration between almond industry shellers and processors, equipment suppliers and academic leaders.
Dennis Nef, dean of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State, said the curriculum and state-of-the-art facility will provide valuable hands-on experience in line with the teaching model at Fresno State. Dan Pronsolino, general manager at Cortina Hulling and Shelling, saw a need in the industry for a well-trained workforce that understood the almond hulling and shelling business. He brought the idea for a commercial line at the university to Chris McGlothlin, director of technical services at WAPA, who gathered industry support, spare equipment and manufacturers and suppliers to make the laboratory a reality. Gary Dunn, director of capital projects at Wonderful Pistachio and Almonds, was a driving force in designing the line and installing the machinery.
The facility is home to six pieces of equipment. Dunn says their TOMRA Nimbus 640 color sorter is the most technologically advanced machine in the lab. Other machinery includes a Nolin gyratory sizer, Forsberg TKV-25 Gravity Deck, Forsberg G2 Destoner, AB FAB aspirator and QCIFY automated quality grading machine. In addition to the processing machinery, the lab has some pieces of auxiliary equipment that support the line.
Students have already been completing the course and enrollment is expected to grow now that the facility is up and running, according to Athanasios “Alex” Alexandrou, department chair for the Department of Industrial Technology in the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State.
Marni Katz has lived and raised her family in the San Joaquin Valley for nearly 30 years. In that time, she has covered agriculture for a number of leading ag publications and organizations and gained a reputation for understanding and digesting complex information and presenting it to growers. She enjoys learning about new ways growers can farm more profitably and efficiently, and working with researchers and stakeholders to bring that information to the growing community. In her free time, Marni plays saxophone with jazz groups throughout the Valley and is an avid tennis nut.