26 Jun

Chowchilla nut cooperative doubles down on almonds, adds state-of-the-art huller/sheller for 2014 harvest season

Contact: Mike Beeler, (209) 545-0740
Jeff Hamilton, (559) 665-1185

The next-generation almond huller and sheller – and the food safety and product quality advantages it provides – will be the center of attention Friday at an open house hosted by Minturn Hullers Co-op of Chowchilla.

The $24 million project took more than two years to design and build. It is the first of its kind in California’s $4 billion almond industry. It will allow Minturn to double its capacity and have a seasonal output of more than 150 million meat pounds.

Beeler Industries of Salida took the huller/sheller project from concept to completion. It features innovative separation technology from Lewis M. Carter Manufacturing of Donalsonville, Ga., and industry-leading “Process Air” and filtration equipment from Donaldson-Torit of Minneapolis. The machinery footprint is about the size of a football field. A 61,000-square-foot structure houses the process equipment, bulk shipping and warehouse.

“It’s one of the largest hullers and shellers in the valley,” said Mike Beeler, owner and president of Beeler Industries.

The open house is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, June 27 at Minturn’s plant, 9080 S. Minturn Road, Chowchilla. Lunch will be served and representatives from all four companies will be on hand to talk about the project.

For Minturn, the investment represents its strong belief that the state’s almond market will continue to thrive thanks to strong domestic consumption and the huge appetite for nuts among consumers in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“This project, in and of itself, pretty much states what our view of the California almond industry is and what we think of that future. It is very bright,”said Jeff Hamilton, Minturn’s general manager. “Our existing grower members are continuing to expand their operations. … This facility will allow us to take care of growers that have been committed to this cooperative for so many years.”

The increase in production volume was a key part of the decision to invest in the project, Hamilton said. The Madera County cooperative processed more than 80 million meat pounds of almonds in 2013, making it one of California’s top five huller/shellers.

The equipment features a cutting-edge approach to air handling, which will minimize dust, dramatically increase sanitation and allow the processed nuts in and out of shells to be loaded onto trucks in an environmentally controlled space.

“We’re trying to increase capacity and food safety at the same time,” Beeler said.

Quality is another important aspect of the new processor. Early removal of hull, LSK and foreign materials provide cleaner, high-quality products and increased output. The single-level, low-profile system also provides ease of access, allowing operators to quickly sample, adjust, maintain and sanitize equipment.

Hamilton said he will add two 10-person shifts to operate the new machine. The company’s two existing sheller/hullers will remain in production.

“We will be able to process our growers’ product in less than half the time previously needed,” he said.

Minturn Hullers began in 1966 and has grown from 120 members to more than 300. In the past two decades, its production volume has increased from 12 million meat pounds per year to more than 80 million meat pounds. In the past four seasons, processing has lasted until mid-January.

Beeler Industries was founded in 1989 in Salida and makes equipment for processors of almonds, walnuts and pistachios. The company has designed and built some of the most cutting-edge equipment available and continues to be an innovator in the agricultural manufacturing industry.