By Timothy Collins, Chair, Kern County Young Farmers & Ranchers
As the Kern County almond harvest began back in August, the Young Farmers & Ranchers drove out past Wasco and the many surrounding almond orchards to tour Semi Tropic Almond Huller. After touring the blossoming almond orchards at Holtermann Farms early last year and then touring JSS Almond’s processing plant in the fall, we were excited to complete the path of an almond by touring a huller.
Semi Tropic general manager, Mason Otten, gave us the tour. Beginning with piles of the three parts of an almond, he explained what it takes for almonds to go from the tree to the store shelves. Unfamiliar to most of us was just how many varieties of almonds are grown locally; Mason showed us at least a dozen. With harvest now in full swing, we got to see all the equipment in the plant running with freshly hulled and shelled almonds filling the bins. As is so common in the ag industry today, no part of the product goes to waste. Almond hulls are sold to dairies as cattle feed, and shells are used for bedding.
Almonds are consistently among the top five crops in Kern County and also in California. Our state produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the commercial supply in the U.S. Living in Kern County, we may take the sights of almond blossoms in February and shakers driving through the rows in the fall for granted, but for most of the country the opportunity to see the process firsthand doesn’t exist.
Semi Tropic Cooperative also shows the story of a changing ag landscape in Kern County. It was originally built as a cotton gin when cotton was king and almonds were far from taking any top commodity spot. The cotton gin closed several years back and the much more recently built almond huller now runs 24/7 for nearly half the year.
The access to such an incredible variety of crops grown in California gives more potential and importance to ag education locally. The school year is now two months in and it has been three years since students have had an optimistic start to the school year with no worry of shutdown and the surety of showing ag projects at the county fair. What exactly the next 60 years of agriculture will look like no one knows. But we know the ones that will be shaping it. Whether high school FFA students or YF&R members, the future is in our hands. Let’s be a part of the Golden State feeding the world for generations to come.