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>>Alexi: Nuts are one of America's favorite snacks. Cashews, almonds, and peanuts are all very popular.
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But when it comes to health benefits, versatility, and great flavor, it's hard to beat the walnut.
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Whether used in baking, in a cereal or trail mix, or just eaten alone, walnuts are a great choice.
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Hi, Alexi here from Opto 22. Today I'm in northern California, where close to 99% of the U.S.
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walnut crop is grown. I want to see just what it takes to produce these very healthy, and
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very tasty, walnuts. Given the vast quantities of nuts involved, it's important that the
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processing be fast, cost-effective, and energy efficient. Because wasting energy is bad for
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the environment, and bad for the bottom line. And of course, food safety is of utmost concern.
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Let's take a look and see how these walnuts are processed.
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>>Alexi: I'm here today with Chris Fedora. Can you give us a little background about Fedora Farms?
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>>Chris: We are a fifth-generation farm.
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In fact, we started out by my great-great grandparents in the early, early to mid 1800s.
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It was a full-fledged dairy. And then in the 1940s or so, they planted a few walnut trees as
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kind of an experiment. And we slowly converted over to a full operation, walnut hulling and drying.
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>>Alexi: Can you walk us through the process?
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You look at a tree, the walnuts are ready to go. What happens next?
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>>Chris: We'll bring in a shaker, which actually grabs ahold of the tree, and shakes the tree
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violently, and all the nuts will fall down. And we'll use then a sweeper which will blow
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the walnuts away from the berm as well as move them into a wind row. And then we'll
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have a harvester that comes through, picks those up. We'll transfer those into a set
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of trailers and we'll take those into the hulling plant. A few years ago, the total
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crop estimate for walnuts was about 200-250,000 tons. This year, we are projected to be well
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over 500,000 tons. So without the technology, it would be nearly impossible to run that
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volume of product, that efficiently, in the same window.
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>>Alexi: How do you ensure that your walnuts are of the highest quality possible?
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>>Chris: Quality is the most important. Because we are paid on our grade, we have to ensure
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there aren't shell defects, that the meat kernel has good color, as well as size. But
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more importantly, on the moisture side, if we don't get the walnuts dry, below eight percent,
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we start running into mold and mildew issues. By monitoring the moisture of those
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bins and having the automated door controls, it allows us to only dry what we need to dry.
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Once we hit that eight percent, we're able to shut that off and ship it right away, which
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frees up more dryer space. So we're using the technology to ensure that we're getting
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our maximum weight, that we're delivering the maximum amount of product,
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so we can get the maximum amount of return.
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>>Alexi: Walnuts need to be dried to roughly eight percent moisture content. Why is this drying important?
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>>Don: Drying walnuts is very important because any agricultural product, if it has excessive
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moisture in it, will in fact be subject to mold. Once we get a walnut below about
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eight percent, it is definitely well below the mold point. It will keep at that point,
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and be a healthy, good-to-eat product without refrigeration.
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>>Alexi: Tell us about your instrumentation. Why was it such an improvement?
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>>Don: The instrumentation that I developed for walnut growers used an existing, a known
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technique, of monitoring the dielectric constant of a product to determine its moisture content.
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What I did that was unique was to adapt that process, so we that could measure from a few hundred
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pounds to a few tons of walnuts all at once. We have a proprietary set of radio frequency
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circuit boards that monitor the moisture content in a large number of bins. We have our own
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scanners that collect moisture information from every bin. We collect that data and send
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all of it to a PC for display so that the operator can know exactly how the drying process is progressing.
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>>Alexi: Under-drying is bad because the walnuts can rot or mold. But over-drying is possibly
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even worse for the walnut growers. Why is over-drying such a problem?
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>>Don: The farmer gets paid for the delivered weight.
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If they dry them from eight percent, the recommended value, to six percent, they've
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just given away two percent of their total income for the year in reduced weight. That's
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a big cost. In addition, the drying process slows down. So drying from the eight percent
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to six or five, they may spend 20 or 30 percent too long in the drying bins. That means growers
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paying for 20 to 30 percent too much power and fuel, and they can't turn those bins over.
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We realized that our customers really needed us to help automate the process, to reduce
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the amount of labor, and to make it possible for them to stop the drying at the right moisture.
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At that point we began to use Opto 22 equipment. We're using Optomux, E1s, and SNAP PAC equipment
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from Opto to open and close the air doors under each bin, to start and stop drying at
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the correct time, to turn off the fans and burners when they're no longer needed. We've
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helped the industry to dramatically reduce their energy consumption. We hope that we'll
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be able to bring it down to where they'll be using, in just a few more years, less than
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half the energy that they were using back in the 1970s.
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>>Chris: One of the things that sets Fedora Farms apart from everybody else is we are
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embracing technology. We're using what is available to make us more efficient. We're
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using what is available to make us more consistent. There are very few, if any, hullers out there
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besides us that are using the auto-fill door controls, the automated drying with the lot
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tracking software, and the sorters that are being provided through WECO.
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>>Don: The most important criteria for us in selecting automation equipment are reliability,
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cost effectiveness, and long-term support. I have customers who are still using Opto 22
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equipment that I installed more than 25 years ago. It's still running their plants
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and facilities. On those rare occasions when I have to supply them with spare parts,
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all of those parts and boards and relays are still available. I can still get support.
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I can still download documentation. I can still download the software.
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>>Alexi: Be sure to visit Opto22.com for more case study videos. We'll see you next time.
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