CHOWCHILLA — Minturn Hullers Cooperative of Chowchilla held an open house Friday to showcase its new, state-of-the-art almond huller and sheller.
This is the third addition to the the Madera County almond processing facility that last year produced more than 80 million meat pounds of almonds. With the new huller and sheller, Minturn expects to nearly double its capacity, processing more than 150 million pounds during this harvest.
Joe Marchini, director at Minturn’s plant, said the $24 million project took about two years to complete. The investment came as a result in an increase in demand and production volume, Marchini explained.
The 61,000-square-foot structure houses the processing equipment, bulk shipping and warehouse.
Mike Beeler, owner and president of Beeler Industries, which designed and built the new huller, said it is probably one of the largest in the Valley.
Beeler explained that the most important aspect of the new facility is its focus on food safety and product quality.
Beeler Industries and the cooperative also worked with Lewis M. Carter Manufacturing of Georgia and Donaldson Torit of Minneapolis to implement new separation technology and air-filtration equipment. Beeler explained that the filtered air intakes allow the processor to operate with closed doors, diminishing any possibility of outside contamination.
Because the process of removing the debris and almond hulls are potential sources of air emissions, the new equipment aims to minimize dust, increase sanitation and allow the processed nuts to be loaded onto trucks in an environmentally controlled space.
Plant supervior Jeff George said the new facility can process about 800,000 pounds of almonds per day.
“This will definitely help us get through production a lot quicker,” George said, “We’re talking about a 110 percent production increase.”
George said the new plant also helped create jobs, as two 10-person shifts have been added to operate the new equipment.
The new processing project is scheduled to start working in mid-July for the upcoming harvest.
Despite the hard hit that California’s $4 billion almond industry has taken with the drought, Marchini believes the market will continue to grow, and this investment is representative of it, he said.
“This project 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 in a news release.
“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,” Hamilton said.
Minturn Hullers opened in 1966 and has grown from 120 members to 300. In the past four seasons, processing has lasted until mid-January.
Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or aibarra @mercedsunstar.com.