From an aerial view the Central Valley looks like a quilt. Each row of that quilt is stitched by local farmers who carefully tend to their rows of crops, which are commonly almonds in this area. California produces more than 80 percent of the world’s almonds much of which can be traced to Blue Diamond, one of the nation’s largest cooperatives.
October is National Cooperative Month and the United States Department of Agriculture recognized the significance that these farming partnerships have to national and local economies.
“Agricultural cooperatives are a driving force in the nation’s thriving farm economy. Because they are farmer owned and operated businesses, the sales dollars and income generated are much more likely to be returned and spent in rural areas and communities,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Cooperatives are unique in that they aim to operate as close to cost as possible, according to Rural Cooperatives magazine that published the top 100 cooperatives in the United States in its September/October edition of this year. Four California based cooperatives appeared on the list and Blue Diamond ranked 30th.
With a recent plant opening in Turlock in June of this year, Blue Diamond has boosted the local economy and built substantial presence in the area. However, most local farmers have been growing for Blue Diamond long before the cooperative opened its Turlock plant. The Muller family of Muller Berry Farms are third generation Blue Diamond growers whose relationship was founded in 1934.
According to Bart Muller, cooperatives are born out of necessity and his father credits their long term relationship with Blue Diamond to the co-op's early development.
“The almond industry was so small back then that Blue Diamond was really the only one who had the volume to do any development or marketing,” said Dave Muller.
Blue Diamond has continued to grow and now represents more than half of the state’s almond growers and is a household name for almond products.
Kassie Keyse, Blue Diamond communications manager, said that almonds are currently trendy as health food, which makes them a good product to sell.
“Our marketing has been a big step up. Our brand is recognizable on a global scale and we try to get it out there and connect with our consumers,” said Keyse.
The co-op also makes several efforts to maintain good grower relations including hosting quarterly district meetings for growers and annual meetings that the CEO and Board of Directors attend. The co-op also publishes a monthly newsletter and bi-monthly magazine. Bart Muller has served on a liaison committee that works to keep Blue Diamond management and growers in communication and finds the co-op's efforts reassuring.
“I think they do a really good job with communications. You know, it’s very competitive out there and if they did not communicate well, there are other handlers out there that compete with Blue Diamond for growers,” Bart said.
Ultimately, Blue Diamond makes strong efforts to keep growers and consumers happy.
Dave Muller put it succinctly when he said, “We need each other.”