Category Archives: Builders

The Burchell Nursery Takes on Enormous Project with the Help of Agra Tech

By embarking on an ambitious three-phase project consisting of a screen house, a head house and a greenhouse for insect exclusion and a standalone propagation house in conjunction with Agra Tech, Inc., the Burchell Nursery is poised to start a new chapter in almond and citrus tree production.

The story of growth at Burchell Nursery is astounding and takes place in both Fowler and Oakdale, CA.  Since its inception in 1942, the operation has grown from 10,000 trees annually to over 3 million; 1.5 acres to more than 1,000; and from 5,000 square feet of greenhouse space to more than 130,000. This third-generation company is literally growing in front of our eyes and now their current project is taking them to a whole new level.

It all began in 1942 with “one man, a small patch of land and a very big belief”, according to the nursery’s website.  The man was Irvin Burchell, who started with an acre and a half acre of good Central Valley land on the outskirts of Modesto, CA.  With a B.S. from UC Berkeley in Pomology (the science and culture of fruits) Burchell began growing peach trees.  Today, Burchell Nursery grows more than 300 varieties of almond, apricot, cherry, nectarine, peach, plum, prune, and walnut trees.  The nursery has also patented more than 80 of these varieties over the past 75 years and also grows pomegranate, citrus and olive trees, plus a few ornamental varieties as well.

Burchell Peaches. Yum!

Beginning in the 1960s, Burchell Nursery worked to eliminate viruses from commercial tree varieties and establish clean sources of bud wood.  Their ongoing sampling process to ensure virus-free trees became the model that is now used by the State of California and their certified and  virus-free selections are now known as Healthy Start Trees.™

In 1970, Irvin’s son Bill Burchell took over the nursery’s reins and oversaw explosive growth, including the addition of 700 acres in Oakdale, CA; opening its Fowler branch in 1983; and its first greenhouse in 2000.

In 2004, Bill handed the business over to his son, Tom Burchell.  While some experts estimate only ten percent of the nation’s 2.1 million farms survive to the third generation of family ownership, Tom has seized the opportunity and helped the nursery to grow even more.  His stewardship has also advanced the firm’s breeding program, which currently holds more than 44 patented varieties to its credit and more coming each year.

Greenhouse Manager Jeremy Bahne, 39, has been working at Burchell since 2006 and has 17 years of total experience in the industry.  He has been leading the team as they coordinate a large, four-phase greenhouse project that includes a head house, a screen house, a greenhouse, and an additional standalone propagation greenhouse, all provided by Agra Tech of Pittsburg, CA, and built by Ag-Con of San Jose, CA.

Bahne explained each component within the project: “One of these structures is our propagation facility and the other, our citrus complex, was designed primarily to achieve Asian Citrus Psyllid exclusion,” he said.  “This was built in three phases.  When we started the project, we were anticipating the coming of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, so we started with a one-acre screen house to keep these pests out while complying with CDFA and USDA regulations.  After the one acre of screen we added the headhouse and 1/2 acre of greenhouse, and we will eventually be adding another 1/2 acre of greenhouse in the future.”

Ray Pound of Ag-Con discusses construction with the greenhouse manager in one of the screen houses.

“The screen house is one of Agra Tech’s Insulator series and is 312 ft. long 140 ft. wide,” Bahne explained. “We will be using it as a ‘hardening off’ facility to toughen up the young citrus plants before they enter the real world.  It’s a good way to reduce the humidity while protecting the plants from insects and we can also use it for frost protection during part of the year.  The temperatures in the screen house are similar to those outside, but we have more control there and can keep the pests out.”

The Burchell Nursery grows 30-inch tall citrus trees, mostly mandarin oranges, lemons and grapefruits. The other commodities they grow have different height standards, but commercial citrus growers prefer them at that size and the nursery has become very good at accommodating them, Bahne said.

Phase 2 of the citrus project is a head house where Bahne’s crew can work on citrus plants without exposing them to any insects and acting as the main conduit between Burchell’s greenhouse growing area that is a little more sophisticated and with more bells and whistles.  “We will be able to use this head house to move plants from our greenhouse into our screen house to harden them without worrying about exposure to the Asian Citrus Psyllid,” Bahne said.

The second project is a propagation house, which is a 1/2 acre structure where Burchell will propagate things like rootstocks and other products that they sell such as vegetative cuttings and tissue culture of rootstocks that are used for almond and peach production and other fruit and nut trees for retail garden centers.

Bahne is delighted to be working with Agra Tech on this enormous project because he values the company’s knowledge, experience and expertise in every facet of greenhouse construction and design, he said.  “Jim Bergantz, our Agra Tech rep, played a huge role with this project and he couldn’t have been more agreeable.  One of the best things about hiring Agra Tech is that you also get Ag-Con, which is great.  They have done all of the construction for each phase and it has been amazing.  Ray Pound and the job foreman, Jaime, are on top of everything and their problem-solving skills have been very helpful.”

A drive-through breezeway from screen house to the Solar Light headhouse area without allowing insects in.

Bahne talked to three different companies before signing with Agra Tech, he said.  “They came back with a plan that was flexible and they we’re really willing to work with us at a reasonable price.  We met with them and they helped us adjust the design.  What they came up with was very similar to our original design, but they made it much more practical.  They thought about things that we didn’t think of and that was a big deal, to say the least!”

Written by Ed Attanasio
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Dave Wilson Nursery Builds Large Greenhouse Manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc.

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To increase its capacity for growing rootstock, as well as extend the growing season, Dave Wilson Nursery Inc. is working with Agra Tech, Inc. to design and build a standalone 150,000 sq. ft. greenhouse facility with a wide range of cutting-edge features throughout. For the commercial side of Dave Wilson Nursery, this addition is part of a two-stage expansion plan, with another 75,000-sq. ft. addition anticipated to take place sometime next year.

Mike Farris, Greenhouse Manager at Dave Wilson Nursery Inc., has overseen this construction project and is confident in its successful completion as well as its tremendous benefit to DWN’s production process. The greenhouse expansion was designed and manufactured by Agra Tech, Inc. of Pittsburg, CA and assembled by Ag-Con Construction of San Jose, CA.

“This expansion will facilitate the increased production of almond trees on hybrid rootstock for our commercial market,” Farris said, “which is the driving force behind this recent expansion.”

The expansion not only provides for increased production but does so with great efficiency and labor saving,” Farris said. Phase one’s capacity is 2 million plant starts. Phase two equals that capacity or it will hold 257,000 finished stock in 100mm x 200mm Elle Pots ©.”

Dave Wilson Progress

Ag Con foreman working with the customer

Integrated into this greenhouse expansion are a wide range of additional features. According to Farris, these include Agra Tech’s line of mobile trays, under-bench heating, Cherry Creek’s traveling water booms and a secondary overhead heating system, all controlled with a Hortamax control system. The addition of insect screen will facilitate improved plant health and vigor.

Ray Pound is the owner of Ag-Con Construction, a company that has built literally hundreds of greenhouses over the years. Large greenhouse operations call upon Pound frequently to get their greenhouses built on deadline and without complications, because Ag-Con knows how to build even the most complex greenhouses.

Pound has worked on a series of small projects with Dave Wilson Nursery in the past and that’s why he is pleased to be involved in the company’s big project. “The people at Dave Wilson Nursery are great to work with, so when I first found out about this project, we were really excited,” Ray Pound said. “This greenhouse is state-of-the-art throughout and David Wilson Nursery is going to be doing some amazing things in this greenhouse with almond trees. It is going to play an important role within the company, so getting it up-and-running by December is huge.”

With a crew of 11 working day and night to reach the greenhouse’s deadline, Pound is fast tracking everything to make the December date. “I have an excellent crew and by working with Mike Farris, we are really stepping up on this job,” Ray Pound said. “This is a dream project, because it is innovative in many ways and Mike Farris is great to work with. I was involved in several aspects of the greenhouse’s design and offered advice during the planning stage. This is a step into the big-time with all of the companies that worked on this greenhouse, so we’re anxious to be able to see it in action. The design stages on this project started in July of 2015 and on December 1st, we will be up-and-running with this greenhouse and all of its features.”

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Ag Con Construction crew at work on the Shade Curtain

Dave Wilson Nursery grows trees for commercial orchards as well as for home garden centers nationwide, offering a complete line of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees for the home garden trade. Established by Dave Wilson in 1938 on a tiny parcel of land that he rented near Modesto, California, Dave Wilson Nursery has established a great track record for being one of the largest growers of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees in the entire country. By changing with the times and embracing the newest technology available, Dave Wilson Nursery has grown exponentially over the past 78 years. Tom Spellman, the company’s southwestern U.S sales manager, has an office in Upland, CA.

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View from headhouse into the Solar Light 42 greenhouses

With 11 years of experience managing greenhouses, Farris knows the ins and outs of designing and building growing structures of all types and that’s why he is happy to be working with a company like Agra Tech. “We have worked with Agra Tech and Ag-Con previously, so we’re very comfortable with both companies and know we’ll be getting some of the best service available,” Farris explained. “In fact, Agra Tech has built all of the greenhouses we have here currently, except for the original one that was built back in the 1940s. Working with the Pound family and Jim Bergantz our ATI rep, not to mention all of the amazing folks in their office–it is great to be working with some of the finest and smartest people in the industry today.”

Article by Edmund Attanasio

Solar Light 48 Headhouse

Solar Light 48 Headhouse

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Solar Light 42 nearly completed

Agra Tech’s Jim Bergantz Makes Permitting Presentation at 2016 Indoor Ag Tech Conference

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Agra Tech, Inc. is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial greenhouses in the Western US, but they do so much more than selling structures and growing systems to greenhouse farmers. Since day one, Agra Tech has played an integral role in helping to advise the entire industry and assisting people as they enter this field. To this end, the experienced and highly-skilled professionals at Agra Tech speak at seminars, conferences and other events. They don’t get paid for these presentations, but do it for the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Recently, Jim Bergantz, a sales engineer for Agra Tech, made a presentation in front of 150 people at the 4th Annual Indoor Ag Conference in Las Vegas. The title of his speech was Navigating the Road to Obtaining Your Greenhouse Building Permit.

The blog team at Agra Tech sat down with Bergantz to discuss the ins and outs of permitting and his knowledge about the topic–accumulated by helping customers with their permitting over the past decade.

Q: Tell us about your background in permitting and how you’ve helped your customers to attain permits for their projects?
JB:
I gained a lot of experience by building my own home and as working as a sales engineer with ATI. I have worked with a wide range of customers pursuing permits, helping them with their research and working closely with builders and customers as they navigate through this potentially arduous process.  By developing relationships with building department contacts and permit acquisition specialists, I have accumulated a vast amount of information that I can use to help our customers who need permits before they can build their greenhouses. By knowing the obstacles and pitfalls, I can guide them through the process and help them to find the right resources.

Q: Organization is the key. Tell us why and how you help your customers to be organized in this process?
JB:
Thinking the entire process through is important. If you know what to expect, you won’t run into surprises that can delay the permitting process. In some cases, there are things you can anticipate, like Kit Foxes on your property and the environmental concerns associated with that. But by carefully preparing the information that will be required, including things such as the structural engineering for the project, our customers can put them in the best position that they can possibly be in. Things such as local regulations will change, but if you’re organized, you can deal with them and get the permitting done as drama-free as possible.

Q: What are the areas where people seem to drop the ball when it comes to permitting?
JB:
By not providing the correct answers and by not completing the proper information for the building and planning department. It is not an easy process and some people get intimidated. They underestimate the time that it takes to get a project online and in some cases, they think they can do it alone.

 Q: What is your success rate in this regard?
JB:
We have a very high degree of success, because between all of us at Agra Tech, we have well over 300 years of greenhouse engineering and manufacturing experience combined.

Q: Is it a trial and error type of thing? It seems like a lot of these permitting projects have to be re-submitted before they go through?
JB:
It’s an investigation type of thing, depending upon the location of the proposed greenhouse and the depth of the requirements. When resubmission is required, we are there to help and provide as many answers as possible regarding the structural engineering of the Agra Tech greenhouse and we are in the loop until we get the project online.

Q: How can you find a good, reliable person to help your customers as they navigate through the process?
JB:
The first thing we tell people is ask everyone  concerned–local contractors are  an excellent source, county offices and the local economic development  department are all good places to start. In each area, it is different. It could be a contractor or a retired building department employee or an engineer. For example, in Stanislaus County an electrical contractor has a team of engineers and strong relationships with county departments. Another one is in San Diego County, where a retired building department official who knows the ins and outs of obtaining permits in that county is our go-to person there. Therefore, it differs based on the region.

Q: So, it is tougher to get building permits in certain states/regions?
JB:
Definitely. California is one that requires a very organized approach, while Florida, on the other hand, makes it relatively simple, comparatively speaking.

Q: What role do you play in these permitting projects?
JB:
I am a resource and project advocate and my role is one of support and guidance. I help our customers understand what is involved and prepare them for what is expected.

Q: What was your response for this presentation and how many people attended?
JB:
It was extremely positive with lots of interaction. There was a lot of interest in this topic and approximately 150 people attended the presentation.

Q: Tell us a specific scenario where your knowledge & experience helped a customer to get a permit for their greenhouse project?
JB:
Of course. Dave Wilson Nursery in Stanislaus County is a prime example.     We located and connected them with a permit acquisition specialist–Brett Russell, of Interstate Electric. Then, we conducted a team meeting with the customer to develop a proposal.  We crafted the proposal very carefully, making sure we answered all the potential questions and addressed areas that may cause concern.  We made sure to include input from people at work on every aspect of the project. The team has years of experience interfacing with building officials which proved to be very important as the process unfolded.  The team developed the specs and the documents required to submit the permit package and, with perseverance, it went through with flying colors. By working with us in conjunction with Brett Russell, who knew the process in his county, our customer was successful in accomplishing their goal of receiving a permit. The time and energy they put in to prepare their permit package really paid off in the end.

By Edmund Attanasio, May 24, 2016