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Expansion at Setton Farms
Terra Bella plant keeping up with industry growth
Terra Bella’s largest employer and largest company is getting even larger.
Lee Cohen, CEO of Setton International Foods, Inc., said the company has broken ground on a large warehouse with plans to add more processing to the ever-expanding plant in downtown Terra Bella.
“Our growth is at the same rate as the whole industry,” said Cohen of the pistachio industry, adding, “growth is primarily a function of a larger crop.”
Pistachio growth has been phenomenal over the past decade. In Tulare County alone, the number of harvested acres of pistachios has grown from 10,345 acres in 2002 to 29,600 acres in 2011.
The California Pistachio Commission reported the state’s pistachio industry harvested its first commercial crop in 1976. That year, only 1.5 million pounds were produced from 4,350 acres. Almost 30 years later, California has plantings in excess of 150,000 acres with production yielding more than 400 million pounds. The state is the second largest producer of pistachios in the world.
Because it takes five to seven years before trees begin producing a crop, Cohen said there are probably somewhere near 100,000 of planted pistachios in the Golden State that have yet to produce.
Setton is ranked No. 2 to Paramount in terms of processing. The Terra Bella plant processed between 100 and 105 million pounds of pistachios last year. Those pistachios come from the Riverside area up to above Sacramento.
“Pistachios are grown where there are cooler nights and warm days,” said Cohen, explaining like stone fruit, pistachio trees require a good number of chilling hours — temperatures below 45 degrees — to put them into dormancy for the winter.
Cohen said their growth is alternated between storage and processing.
“We’re juggling to keep bottlenecks aligned,” he said of plans to add more processing ability next.
“We have a 20-year plan,” he said.
With every expansion comes a few more jobs in the highly automated plant. Still, Setton employs “several hundred” workers year-round and adds “several hundred” more during the 6 to 8 week harvest season.
The plant has undergone several expansions since Setton purchased it in 1995. Cohen said when they purchased it the plant had a capacity of just 8 million pounds.