Central California Almond Growers Association is the largest huller and sheller of Almonds in the world. It has attained this dominant position due to its beneficial location, a superior grower-run Board, and sound management. The Association also has a somewhat simplistic business model which can become complicated due to the scope and scale of operations. To summarize the Association’s activities is to say a member’s production for Hulling and Shelling is received at one of four plants located at two sites in the prime almond-producing area of California. The member retains ownership of the meats and the Association takes ownership of the hulls and shells which are sold to area dairies. This has provided the necessary revenue for the Association’s continued success. The Association also charges a fee for hulling and shelling to help offset operating costs. A portion of these fees are retained monies which are refunded to the membership on a five-year cycle.
The Association operates as an Agricultural Service Cooperative. The organization was founded in 1963. At that time, like-minded farmers in the eastern part of Fresno County who believed that almonds (which had been historically grown in the Sacramento Valley), could be successfully propagated and grown in the San Joaquin Valley. Following the construction of the first huller in Sanger additional ground was purchased in 1983 to follow members’ almond plantings, which had moved to locations to the far-west of the city of Fresno. Subsequently, three shellers have been added at a separate location near Kerman on the western side of Fresno County. These three shellers, (known as K-1, K-2 and K-3) began operation in 1983, 1993 and 2006 respectively. K-1 was the first inline sheller behind the pre-cleaner and huller that was ever built and revolutionized the almond industry. The Association’s growth has mirrored the overall success of the California almond industry.
Starting in 2005, major modifications to plants, equipment and staffing levels were made when it became apparent to the Board of Directors that the Association was not ready for a tidal wave of new almond production that would soon be delivered into our facilities. Many significant changes were made, beginning with Management. They in turn replaced and hired new staff to key positions where they felt deficiencies existed. A new state-of-the-art sheller (K-3) was constructed, as well as a new office and an additional two scales at the Kerman facility. Many deferred maintenance issues in the older shellers were addressed to bring those facilities up to industry standards. New purchases were made to the Association’s rolling stock, and a new integrated computer software program was developed to better manage all Association activities. All these changes were timed to coincide with an upswing in almond acreage and hull pricing which helped offset the necessary capital expenditures. The Association also took on debt which was required to finance the new sheller. This debt resulted in reduced returns to the membership on an annual basis in the form of higher depreciation and interest expense. However, returns were still competitive with fees charged by our neighboring sheller operations. In 2011 the last of the equipment loans related to the new sheller were paid off and in the years that followed depreciation has dropped substantially.
In 2020 the Association’s oldest sheller, (K-1) was significantly modernized with new state of the art facility with a focus on replacing older and less efficient equipment within the existing building. Larger capacity decking and air systems were added, and the new color sorting equipment was installed to add an additional inshell line to our operations. The cost of this major improvement was $10,000,000 and as hoped plant efficiency improved by just over 60%. This increase in volume was achieved while maintaining the highest standards of quality of product.
The Association is at a wonderful time in its history. It has a strong membership who seems to be highly supportive of the Board of Directors and Management. The Association is not resting on its laurels but is focused on being proactive in looking to the future with a quest for continued improvement.
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