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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ask the Expert: Ben Laverty, CSTC

What precautions must farmers take for safety? What about heat safety living in California?  What safety training is required by the employer? I have been asked some great safety related questions that I knew the perfect expert to call on for help answering your questions!


Ask the Expert is a series of posts to answer your questions. I asked you what questions you had about farming and I went out to answer those questions. I am bringing in what I consider industry experts to answer these tough questions and to provide another view point. I am by no means an expert on these tough questions, so I found the experts for you!


Next up, is Ben Laverty IV. Ben serves on a farming board with me and I have gotten to know his family through their business. Ben is in the business of helping farmers help their employees. Ben together with his father, Ben III, and sister, Terra, run California Safety Training Corporation. CSTC helps farmers and other business owners protect their employees safety and comply with state and federal laws. Ready to dive in with Ben?


Almond Girl Jenny (AG):  Can you give us a brief introduction of your company and how it relates to agriculture? 
Ben Laverty IV (BL): Growing up we were farmers. My first memories are of living in the Belridge citrus orchards, then to Idaho farming potatoes with my mom’s family then back to Bakersfield and farming on the west side of Kern.  We left farming but stayed with agriculture and California Safety Training Corporation was born in 1985.  We still work with our first clients teaching agricultural safety including pesticide, tractor, harvest equipment, anything work related then after about 10 years in business we expanded into other industries.  While still more than half of our business is agriculture we now serve construction, manufacturing, mining/oil, transportation, government contractors et al… 


AG: How is your family involved in the business? 
BL: We have been a family business from the inception with all 4 of my siblings and now my 3 teenage daughters helping out. Today, my sister, father and I work together on a day to day basis to see that we help as many people and companies as possible to work safely and efficiently.
AG:  What precautions do farmers take for heat safety? 
BL: First, have a Heat Illness Plan in place and then make sure that it meets all areas in the law and ensure the plan is utilized and documented.  The 5 topics I reiterate to every farmer or business in my classes are 1. Water - 1 quart per person per hour 2.  Shade - keep it close 3. Symptoms - recognize early and save a life.  4.  First aid- cool the body temperature ASAP 5.  Emergency procedures-  how do we get emergency responders to the site? Everyone working in farming has to be able to bust these out on command...


AG: What are the biggest regulations and laws affecting farmers today? 
BL: It’s still all about heat illness prevention but we have seen an increase in citations and enforcement in many diverse areas.  We focus on compliance as a base and then work with companies to develop the best practices for them.



AG: How do you see these changing in the next 10 years? 
BL: The current trend will continue with an increase in regulation and stricter enforcement balanced with increased use of technology to reduce labor costs and exposure to hazards. 


AG:  How has equipment advanced over the past few decades to improve employee safety? 
BL: The improvement in equipment has been exponential and is mind blowing; from guarding of tractors to the mobile device revolution, 3D printing, drones, the use of mechanical/technological harvesting and cultivation practices will change the nature of farming.  It is so exciting to be alive at this point in the history of the world we have the opportunity to help the world be a better place.  Look at us two farm kids blogging :) Who woulda thunk it?

AG:  What safety training is required by the employer? 
BL:  We have several areas which require formal training by qualified trainers; pesticides/chemical and equipment are the main areas. But heat illness is interesting living in the San Joaquin Valley for most of my life sometimes I assume people understand the risks associated with heat.  Farmers must identify the risks associated with every task performed by employees and make sure the workers know how to perform the task correctly/safely.  Additionally remember “you get what you inspect” so if you haven’t observed and documented employees doing it the right way you have not done your due diligence

It was great working with Ben on this safety blog for you all. I hope you have a little more insight into how farmers ensure they operate in a safe manner.


And don't forget the other posts from the Ask the Expert series:
Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee
Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold
John Wilkins, Valley Tool

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, February 16, 2017

National Almond Day

Today is National Almond Day! What a perfect time of year it is too. The bees are out and getting happier by the day. The blooms are starting to open so those little bees have something to pollinate and keep their tummies full. (Want to keep your tummy full too? Keep reading to the end)


National Almond Day is a day to enjoy the beauty of the almond, the almond bloom and the almond tree. Besides the fact that almonds are a healthy nut and offer great amounts of protein and vitamins they are also a beautiful nut.


This time of year isn't just for a great family photo or one of best times for local photographers to get some great shots, it is a time to enjoy the lifecycle of the almond. I take this time to showcase how the almond gets a starts. That little bee needs the nourishment and protein from that almond bloom to be able to jump start it's spring. Almonds are the first nutritional crop the bees will be pollinating after a long and cold winter. They look forward to almonds to give them that push of love and vitamins to make it through the year.


Not only do bees need almonds, but almonds need bees. Without bees almonds wouldn't be able to be pollinated. We need bees to cross pollinate the almonds and bring pollen from one almond variety to another. This ensures the almonds will develop into a delicious nut.






The buds and blooms are signs of the tree exiting dormancy and waking up after their long winter nap. The blooms are a sign of new life, new beginnings and a new crop. Bloom set is what many look at as a market predictor to try and guess the crop yield. So many look at bloom as a time to start planning for harvest in a mere 6 months.


There have been plenty of foggy mornings like this during our winter season this year. This keeps the temperature down and the bees asleep. We anticipate the warm afternoons where the bees can get out and bee active! Bees are picky and won't come out unless the temperatures are perfect and sunny. But too many sunny days will speed up bloom and make it happen to fast.


Farming is all about balance and finding the happy mediums. We don't always get the ideal weather, ideal growing conditions or ideal days. But that is what makes farmers the eternal optimist.




So today, let's celebrate almonds! Go eat a handful, feed a bee or just enjoy the beauty of bloom.


So how do I get my hands on these tasty treats to celebrate the National Almond Day?
I will select one lucky Almond Day winner and send you
  • 40 Mariani Nut 1oz snack packs
  • a Large "California Almonds" T-shirt
Enter to win and have a great National Almond Day!




Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ask the Expert: John Wilkins, Valley Tool

Technology is a hot topic that I get lots of questions about. The average consumer doesn't realize just how much technology and advances farmers use every day. This certainty isn't the day of cows and plows anymore.


Ask the Expert is a series of posts to answer your questions. I asked you what questions you had about technology and I went out to answer those questions. I am bringing in what I consider industry experts to answer these tough questions and to provide another view point. I am by no means an expert on these tough questions, so I found the experts for you!


Valley Tool and Manufacturing is a company I became familiar with when they acquired the Vrisimo orchard mowers. They are a popular orchard mower that my father used. I enlisted John Wilkins, who is a sales representative for the company, to help me answer your techie questions.


Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your company?
John Wilkins (JW): Valley Tool & Manufacturing is a manufacturing business focused on industrial agriculture machinery. The brands we manufacture include Vrisimo (flail mowers and shredders), Windmill Spraymaster, RockHound, and BrushHound.
The company was created after a few bad years of peach crops in 1968-69' when the Brenda family had to start over from scratch. The family sold the farm and opened up Valley Tool & Manufacturing in Hughson. The entire facility was only about 1,000 square feet. We began as a tool sharpening business for bay area machine shops and over the next decade began to do bid work for companies in the steel industry such as US Steel and Lockheed Martin.
As we grew, Fred Brenda developed Valley Tool into a full-fledged fabrication shop with a wide variety of capabilities. Then, in the 1980’s, we diversified again by purchasing the Vrisimo Ag mower brand and later Windmill Spraymaster. In the last few years, we’ve developed our newest brands, RockHound & BrushHound Attachments – equipment companies focused on contractor and forestry equipment.
We’re proud to still be a family-owned business and committed to developing Valley Tool as the next generation steps in. Currently, Fred serves as President and his son, Vaughn, is our Vice President.


AG: How have advances in technology changed equipment manufacturing?
JW: That’s a question that is really difficult to answer quickly!  Technology has impacted our company in almost every facet, not just in the type of end product we manufacture.  Yes, our mowers themselves have advanced as technology has, but we’ve seen technology impact us in how we manufacture, how we sell, how we market, even how we handle accounting.  Over the last 10+ years, we have developed a line of excavator and skid steer mounted mowers and shredders that with previously available technology would not have been viable.  Ultimately, it has allowed us to diversify in what we build, to become more efficient in how we build it, and to be more effective in how we reach people with it.


AG: How has technology changed what equipment farmers demand?
The biggest impact that I can point to with regards to technology has to be expectations.  As technology improves, expectations for higher reliability, improved features, and faster delivery windows also grow with it.  Truthfully, that’s great for us as manufacturers because it pushes us to continue to innovate and improve not just our products, but our manufacturing and business processes as well.  Technology is allowing us to make those necessary changes at a much quicker pace than ever before.

AG: What is the biggest change in farmer’s request from you in the past 10 years?
JW: One of the biggest changes we’ve seen over the last 10 years is the necessity for brush shredding and all of the complications that come along with it.  We’ve gone from being able to push and burn pruned material to trying to shred it so fine that it doesn’t cause problems for processors.  
Vrimiso mower photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: What new technology are you working on to help advance farmers for the next 10 years?
JW: Without getting into too much detail, our goal is to help farmers with three main things:  reduce downtime, improve public perception, and increase efficiency.  Mowers are relatively simple, but improvements in bearing technology, knife technology, drum balancing methodology, and other things are definitely on the table to help provide farmers with a “better mousetrap” as we continue to see a rise in commercial farming. 

Brush Hound photo courtesy of Valley Tool

Spraymaster photo courtesy of Valley Tool

AG: How has technology changed the way farmers look at doing business?
JW: One thing that has certainly seemed to change in how farmers do business with us is how informed people are before we even have a conversation.  Technology has certainly created expectations of faster response times, shorter lead times and reduced down times.  We have also seen that with the rise of social media, online news outlets, etc., some farmers seem to be much more conscious about the public perception of their practices when making a decision.



It was a pleasure to discuss technology and farming with John. I hope we have dug deep into your questions. Have more? Simply comment below, send me an email or look me up on social media to ask more!


Don't miss out on the Ask the Expert series
Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee
Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold


Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny

Friday, February 3, 2017

Ask the Expert: Mike Mulligan, Glory Bee

Buds are forming, bloom will be here soon and bees are starting to arrive. What a better time to answer your bee questions than now!


Ask the experts is a series I am writing to get some of these hard to answer questions answered. I opened the discussion up to you guys and asked your input on questions pertaining to bees. These are just a few of the questions I have been asked. Have more? Ask away and I will try my best to find an expert for your questions!


Mike Mulligan is the owner of Glory Bee, the beekeeper we choose on our farm to contract with for our pollination needs. Mike a good family friend so it was easy for me to find you a beekeeper to answer those stunning questions.
Almond Girl Jenny (AG): Can you give us a brief introduction of your farm/ company?
Mike Mulligan (MM): l got my start in the bee business back in 1975 after I graduated from UC Davis when Hubert (Jenny's grandfather-in-law) offered to start me off. He offered me 400 beehives, a new 1976 Ford truck, misc. beekeeping equipment, and an old shop building.  He had a few of his farm employees help me with building new bee boxes and your father-in-law even helped me a few times moving bee hives. I lived in an old shack for several years nearby. And I was so surprised when Hubert told me that he wanted to sell me the bee business after just two years of working for him.


AG: What was beekeeping like back then?
MM: Back then, there were huge acreages of cotton and alfalfa in the Wasco area, which provided summer honey production for the bees. I rented the bees out to almond farmers for pollination for $9.50 / hive the first year. (it's now close to $200/hive, 37 years later). I took the bees up to the Lindsay area for orange honey production after the almonds, then on to seed alfalfa pollination for several years at Boswell Farms.
Busy bee at work
Bee Boxes filled with bees
AG: How is your family involved in your farm?
MM: I married Susan Zachary from Shafter in 1987, and she really got the business, billing and office work organized and she became a great business partner as well as wife and super-mom.  The business eventually grew to approximately 7500 hives today with about 12 full time employees. I had several young men from a Wasco family start working for me and they became the backbone of the business. Almost the entire family has worked for Glory Bee Co thru the years.
At this time, none of our seven kids show much interest in the family business. It is a very demanding business, requiring long hours and backbreaking work, often in extremely hot weather. That doesn't seem to interest them.


AG: Can you give us an insight into care for bees during the summer?
MM: We have started trucking most of our hives out of state, to North Dakota and South Dakota, for summer honey production in the last few years, as cotton and alfalfa have declined drastically in Kern County. This move has presented many new and challenging changes to try to adapt to. Our "beekeeping" year revolves around almond pollination now days. Almost all commercial beekeepers truck their hives to CA for the almond bloom.
Photo Courtesy of Gregory Cook
AG: What is the hardest part of maintaining the colonies?
MM: Somewhere, around 1995-2000, parasitic mites of honeybees spread into the US and boy did that shake things up across the beekeeping industry in the US. One in particular, the Varroa mite, has become the source of all the related problems related to CCD (colony collapse disorder). It is very difficult to control this pest efficiently without damaging the bees, especially the queen bee. It's difficult to produce a food product (honey) and use miticides without contamination problems. All the other problems related to running a farm in CA; Workman's comp, DMV, insurance, CAL OSHA, they have been, and are still scary.


AG: What gives honey its specific colors?
honey samples of various flavors and colors


MM: The main honey batches we have made our main crops of honey from over the years are: citrus honey from Tulare Co, sage and wild buckwheat honey from coast range Chaparral areas, alfalfa honey from Kern Co, clover, sunflower, alfalfa, and canola honey from our Dakota locations, and occasionally a little avocado, almond, and raspberry honey, depending on the year. Most honey production is dependent on adequate rainfall, just like farming in general.   The different floral sources produce different flavored honey, as well as different flavored pollen making them all differ in color and taste. 

Now that you are a little more educated on bees, maybe you will look at the jar of honey a little different.
Have more questions for Mike and other industry experts? Ask away! Shoot me a message in the comments below, send me an email or look me up on social media.
Did you miss the first Ask the Expert post from Matthew Haddon, Sierra Gold?


Until Next Time,
Almond Girl Jenny