The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology at Fresno State unveiled a state-of-the-art nut processing laboratory Friday with a host of campus and area agricultural industry leaders and supporters. 

The project, initiated and coordinated by Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA), was made possible by nearly $800,000 worth of donated equipment and services by Central Valley industry partners.

Fresno State Interim Provost Xuanning Fu, Jordan College Dean Dennis Nef, project partners, faculty, students and industry members spoke at the event about the importance of the equipment, as well as using industry-tied instructors to teach a related nut processing class and lab. 

“We are proud to support Fresno State and create a new opportunity for students to get hands-on training in one of our agricultural industry’s most specialized career fields,” said Roger Isom, president and CEO of the Western Agricultural Processors Association. “This is a unique opportunity for industry partners to come together and contribute their expertise and equipment to benefit the future of Central Valley agriculture.”  

The campus laboratory features advanced processing equipment that can shell or hull almonds, pistachios, walnuts and pecans to meet industry standards. “The gift will enable the Jordan College to further collaborate with industry, enhance the skills of its students and allow the local companies to remain competitive and thrive,” said Dr. Athanasios Alexandrou, chair of the Department of Industrial Technology at Fresno State.

The nut industry is a key contributor to the nation’s leading agricultural state, accounting for three of California’s top 10 commodities in 2020 almonds (second, $5.62 billion), pistachios (fourth, $2.87 billion) and walnuts (10th, $958 million).

Students will be trained to operate automated technology such as TOMRA Nimbus 640 grading equipment, which uses lasers to separate defective products based on nut color. The equipment was donated by TOMRA, a Norwegian-based company that has a national food sorting headquarters and facility in Sacramento.

Another key participant in the lab’s creation was Gary Dunn, director of capital projects at The Wonderful Company’s primary pistachio processing facility northwest of Bakersfield. He oversaw engineering, fabrication and campus installation of equipment on-site that included a bag house air filter, fan system, bucket elevator and equipment stands that were provided by Wonderful Pistachios and Almonds

Dunn has commuted back and forth from Bakersfield to Fresno State since equipment began to arrive in January 2021, and often stayed overnight with his son, Bailey Dunn, a Fresno State senior in the Department of Industrial Technology. The younger Dunn has assisted in various parts of the construction process and took the Fundamentals of Nut Processing class when it was initially offered this past spring.

Other laboratory equipment that the Dunns have helped install and was donated by other industry supporters includes: 

  • Forsbergs G2 destoner equipment that removes rocks and stones.
  • Forsbergs TKV25 product separator that removes leaves, twigs, dust and other debris, and measures nut density to detect defective products that are lighter and have immature content.
  • Nolin Steel gyrating shaking equipment that uses screens to sort nuts by size.
  • Qcify automated analyzer that measures and compares sample product quality to Cloud-based industry standards.
  • A.B. FAB aspiration system for the separation of foreign material.
  • Portable incline conveyor provided by Capay Canyon Ranch.
  • Chiller equipment donated by Chandler Automation.
  • Air tank and dryer provided by Cortina Hulling and Shelling
  • Airflow ductwork and fan constructed by Robinson’s Sheet Metal
  • Equipment, bucket elevator equipment stand and support installed by Excelsior Construction

Additional construction services were provided by JTI Electric (wiring and mechanical work), Harris Construction (scissor lift), J.M. Equipment (forklift usage) and Piña Brothers (air lines utility work).  

Students will have their first chance to use the fully-functional lab in fall 2022. Adam Salwasser, an almond and pistachio processing consultant, and Emmanuel Ramos, director of operations at Touchstone Pistachio Company, will serve as lecturers for the class. This will enable Fresno State to further collaborate with industry partners, enhance the skills of its students and support local companies. 

The class curriculum, which also covers related software and equipment maintenance, was created with help from Dan Pronsolino. The Western Agricultural Processors Association board member and Dunnigan Hills Hulling and Shelling general manager added input in the original project planning.

Pronsolino initially worked with the Jordan College to coordinate a 12-month internship program where students could get hands-on almond processing experience in both California and Australia. 

The network of industry-tied contacts and campus lab donations reflect Western Agricultural Processors Association’s wide span of expertise and commitment to serving the industry. The professional organization represents the tree nut industry on regulatory and legislative issues related to hullers and processors, and additional consulting services related to food and operation safety, energy, environmental, labor and tax issues.

“The Central Valley is a national agriculture leader thanks to its ability to evolve and be shaped by innovation and technology,” said Nef, dean of the Jordan College. “We sincerely appreciate the efforts by so many industry representatives to make this lab a reality, which also paves the way for new careers and opportunities for our students to feed families around the Central Valley and world.”