Harvest melodies are once again flowing through the Central Valley. First comes the pitter-patter of almonds being shaken to the ground, then the low rumble as sweepers assemble the nuts in tidy rows down the orchard aisles, and finally with the pick-up machine’s mechanical hum as it lifts almonds off the ground. With nearly 900,000 mature and productive acres of almonds in the Central Valley, the sounds of harvest enrich entire communities.
For almond growers and handlers, harvest season is the busiest time of year, spanning from August to mid-October. To reap the bounty, growers carefully orchestrate each stage of the harvesting process. This process involves the use of highly-specialized equipment and the expertise of skilled technicians and operators, growers, farm managers and hullers and shellers (a processor that removes the almond hull and shell).
During the first stage of harvest, a machine called a shaker visits every almond tree, clamps onto the trunk and shakes the almonds off the branches. Jenny Holtermann, an almond grower in Kern County, describes the shaking process as leaving “an almond blanket all over the [orchard] floor.” The almonds then spend a week or so bathing in the California sunshine, allowing the almond kernel time to dry down to that perfect crunch before the next harvest stage.
When the almonds are in position, the pick-up machine rings in the final stage of almond harvest. Almond Board staff member Danielle Veenstra, part of a third-generation almond growing family, describes “the day that almonds are picked up and trucked out of the orchard” as “the single most rewarding day of the year and every grower’s true test of success.”
Once the natural power of the sun has done its job, harvest’s second phase – sweeping – begins. During this stage, growers and technicians navigate sweepers up and down orchard rows. These machines use fans and built-in brooms to arrange the almonds into a neat windrow down the center of each tree row. Almond growers have access to harvest resources, based on years of research and supplied by Almond Board of California, that provide pointers on how to best adjust harvest equipment. By regularly fine-tuning their equipment, almond growers are actively doing their part to improve air quality in the Central Valley.
Two machines take center stage during harvest’s final phase. The harvester, or pick-up machine, drives over the neat rows of almonds and collects the nuts off the orchard floor. The almonds are then dropped into a cart or shuttle, located directly behind the harvester. While both pieces of equipment perform the same function, a cart is pulled by a tractor while a shuttle is self-propelled. Once the cart or shuttle is full, it travels outside the orchard to visit an elevator. When almonds reach the elevator, they are dumped out of the cart or shuttle, onto a conveyor belt and up into a large semi-trailer. Often growers have multiple carts or shuttles working so that when one is loading its nuts onto the elevator, others allow the process of picking up almonds to continue in the orchard.
Once all the almonds have been gathered and loaded into trailers, they are trucked off to a nearby huller/sheller, who completes the harvest process by removing the almond’s hull and shell.
Each stage of almond harvest is rewarding, and the process serves as a testament to each grower’s year-round work. As harvest melodies crescendo each fall, California’s almond growers, 91% of which are family farms, remain committed to providing the nation, and the world, with California almonds, and look forward to the day when they may pass along this yearly tradition to their own children and grandchildren.1
1USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture