The Western Agricultural Processors Association (WAPA) and Fresno State have officially unveiled a new facility to provide agriculture students with hands-on training. The tree nut processing laboratory is a new state-of-the-art educational resource within the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology. WAPA President and CEO Roger Isom said the new lab will be instrumental in providing students with experience with equipment they would encounter in the industry.
“We’ve brought in donated almond, walnut, pecan, and pistachio processing equipment and we’ve set it up in a small-scale lab to allow students to learn how it operates and what it does as part of creating opportunities for students to go into the tree nut industry,” said Isom. “There are 2.5 million acres of tree nuts in California. We have 178 member facilities. That’s 20,000 jobs. We’re looking for people that can come out of the university and go to work with some basic understanding or background on tree nut processing.”
Nearly $800,000 worth of donated equipment and services by Central Valley industry partners helped to make the project possible. It was noted during the dedication ceremony that the facility is the first of its kind in the country. Isom explained that the project was a collaborative effort involving a variety of industry members contributing expertise and guidance for bringing the lab together. Construction on the tree nut processing laboratory began over a year ago after COVID had slowed the overall progress of the project. “The day we met here to discuss the idea, to the day this thing is now officially open was five years,” Isom noted.
Beginning in the Fall, students will have their first opportunity to experience what the state-of-the-art nut processing lab has to offer. The new equipment will pair with the Tree Nut Processing course that was developed with the guidance of WAPA members. Isom noted his optimism that the new facility will serve an important role moving forward.
“This gives students an opportunity to learn how the equipment works and be exposed to it and hopefully generate some interest of, ‘hey, I’d like to go to work for one of these facilities,’” said Isom. “Long-term, we want to expand it. We hope to do research with some of this equipment, whether it’s food safety or production, or food quality. This is our starting point today.”
A comprehensive breakdown of who contributed to the project is available from Fresno State.