Set among more than 50,000 acres of pistachio and almond trees and supported by cutting-edge processing facilities and a strong grower partner network, Paramount Farms, located in California's San Joaquin Valley, has emerged as the world's largest vertically integrated supplier of pistachios and almonds. And one of the busiest. Among other projects, the Lost Hills-based Paramount is constructing a new almond processing facility and expanding its pistachio operations.
Paramount Farms, located in California's San Joaquin Valley, is the world's largest vertically integrated supplier of pistachios and almonds.
Although it currently processes about 60 percent of the total U.S. pistachio crop, Paramount has aggressive growth plans and, as such, recently realized it needed to revamp its grower receiving process and technology in order to accommodate increasing amounts of product entering its facilities. All products must be received, graded, initially processed and stored within a short time frame.
"The big issue with a pistachio harvest is that once it starts you cannot stop it," says Dave Szeflin, Paramount's vice president of operations. "Due to insect and moisture concerns, the nuts need to be shaken from the trees, shipped, received and processed within a narrow window of time or you have to start worrying about product degradation. Average green (wet) incoming harvest is about a half-billion pounds over a six-week period."
Along with increasing production rates and improving quality assurance, Paramount recently implemented a comprehensive grower receiving process that begins at the scalehouse and ends with an integrated grower payables application. "The old system simply could not handle our current volumes, let alone those we're forecasting for the next few years," says Szeflin. "Any time we had a problem with the old system, IT personnel would have to touch every workstation involved in receiving, a time-consuming endeavor when you consider that trucks were lined up to be received. We recognized the need to build a better process and be creative in applying new technologies to support our position in terms of vertical integration, volume capacity and grower partner relations."
Anticipating larger harvests and facing a decrease in seasonal workers, Paramount developed a new receiving system to increase product throughput and reduce processing costs. The new software-based system relies on radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track the status of pistachio loads. Each trailer bringing in a load of pistachios is equipped with a RFID tag that tracks its status, location, license plate number and tare weight.
Along with anticipated boosts in volumes over the next several years, Paramount faces a decrease in the number of seasonal workers available for its immense harvest and processing efforts. Szeflin and his team, including process engineering and technology experts from supplier MagTech Systems Inc., were charged with devising a new receiving system that would increase throughput of pistachios while reducing total processing costs and eliminating non-value added tasks.
New process, new technology
The technology incorporated into the system includes hardware and software all integrated for the first time within a Web-based environment, allowing for distributed use of the technology with centrally located servers across processing plants at Paramount's 140-acre main facility in Lost Hills and a second Southern California location. Paramount's IT team can now quickly and efficiently respond to system issues at multiple sites.
"We relied on MagTech's process improvement and food industry expertise to streamline a very complicated grower receiving process and then counted on their team to integrate and implement the various technologies to make it easy to use and support while utilizing as much of our existing infrastructure as possible," says Szeflin.