Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Gurbir Samran stands by the sign and logo they had created posted at their family farm on Avenue 14.
New technology, improved equipment and the hard work of the Samran brothers, owners of Billu Farming, produce almonds and grapes near the Bonita District on Avenue 14 and Road 19.
The family farms 300 acres of almonds and 30 acres of Ruby Red wine grapes.
The three brothers, Inder, 30, Gurbir, 28, and Harveer, 26, each work a specific segment of the family enterprise.
“Inder is the scientist, Harveer is the muscle and I am in the custom side of the business,” said Gurbir. “We are a bunch of young farmers.”
All three are unmarried, but Inder is getting married this year, Gurbir said.
Inder controls the use of chemicals, how much water is used and other technical aspects of Billu’s operation. Harveer directs traffic and logistics making sure the crews and equipment are where they are needed.
Gurbir’s custom work entails assisting other growers by grooming their almond orchards.
“It is like giving the trees a haircut,” he responded chuckling.
The crews go in and prune or “top,” the trees, the branches are piled on the ground between the trees that are later fed into a shredding machine that turns the debris into little tiny wood chips, Gurbir said.
The company expanded its operations to include this service as a way to diversify and prepare for the future, he said.
The topping and hedging in the orchard helps the trees grow better by pruning away excess branches so the tree nutrients are concentrated on the remaining branches.
According to the UC California Cooperative website, successful pruning requires knowledge of the orchard. Removing unwanted limbs creates a tree canopy employing the natural growth of the tree. It is necessary to create a productive canopy creating a well-balanced tree tolerant to wind damage, extending the productivity and life of the trees and the orchard.
The aim is to create a well-balanced tree made up of a vertical trunk and three or four well-placed limbs around the trunk of the tree. This balance is achieved with pruning cuts.
Two common causes for unbalanced trees are the prevailing wind and sunlight on the south side of the canopy. If the prevailing wind is pushing the canopy into the center of the tree, limbs are pruned from the inside of the canopy. The outside limbs then develop into the wind. If the canopy is leaning toward the south due to the action of the sun, thin limbs from the south and outside of the canopy. This enables limbs from the south to grow upright, said the UC website.
This year the Samran family’s almond harvest will be accomplished using new shaker and sweeper machines from Orchard Machinery Corporation.
Samran raises two almond varieties, the nonpareil Monterey is an early crop and the Fritz almonds produce a later crop. Some varieties of almonds are used whole for snack foods.
“The Monterey pollinates well and the nonpareil is a larger, attractive almond (served) as a hands-on snack food,” said Gurbir.
Almonds that are cracked or broken are processed for other purposes such as almond butter, meal and flour.
Butter is made by grinding and blending the almonds. Flour is created by using blanched almonds, and the almond meal is a coarser consistency made with the skins of the almonds intact.
“Our cousins Mallvinder and Amandeep Kahal make Better Butter, Kahal Farms Gourmet Almond Butter,” Samran said.
They sell their product online, through Amazon and it carries a five star rating according to Amazon.com. Their product is salt free, with no added sugar and is GMO Free. The siblings are from Madera and played sports for Madera High School, Samran said.
Mallvinder loves to cook so the company with his brother grew from that, he said.
The Samran brothers provide farm management services for other growers and Gurbir is getting his real estate license to better serve their management clients.
The brothers are open to technology, which explains the operation’s recent conversion to solar power that includes powering moisture monitors to ascertain precise amounts of water to use. They control the surface water from the Madera Irrigation District with this system.
This is a way to save money and conserve resources, he said. The solar system will take about five years to pay for itself, Samran said.
“The solar electricity isn’t free, but will power about 90 percent of the operation,” he said.
The biggest expenses for growers are fertilizer, electricity for pumps and diesel fuel, he said.
The operation is staffed by two full-time, year-round employees and two seasonal workers, he said.
The brothers have formed a non profit organization to promote family health, Samran said.
“Getting grandparents out exercising and the kids involved is how it started,” he said.
Their first event, the 5K Fruit Tree Walk Run, is this Saturday, Aug. 12, at Lions Town and Country Park. Race registration is $20 advance $25 day of event per participant with a $10 discount for those 10 and younger and 60 or older, he said. Plans are for the group to stage quarterly events.
Each participant will receive a complementary fruit tree of their choice, such as oranges, peaches, blueberries and boysenberries provided by a sponsor, Burchell Nursery.
Proceeds and donations from the race benefit Madera special-needs sports and recreation programs.
“This inaugural 5K timed run/walk family health event is where we hope to spread good health and fitness as a way of life with simple measures as eating more fruits and vegetables combined with walking and running,” according to the race registration web page.
The long-range plans are to finance food trucks to feed the homeless, Samran said.