My name is Zach Sheely and I farm on our family farm in the Great Central Valley of California. We started farming pistachios when I was in junior high (1995-1996), and I have been involved in the operation in some capacity ever since. My role in the operation is one that is constantly evolving. I started doing general tasks during the summers (weeding, replanting, irrigating... etc.) but am now managing the research and technology aspects of our farm.
Having graduated from Westmont College in 2004 with a degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry, I had planned on going to do graduate work in something technical that would give me a skill set to benefit our farm and our industry. I was lucky enough to have some really interesting internships while at Westmont, including working for the National Weather Service and a NASA funded company. The NASA group was using pictures taken by planes and satellites to display subtle differences within fields We then created prescriptions to address these subtle differences that could be applied by GPS guided tractors and planes to increase yields and efficiency while saving resources.
While at Westmont I started studying opera as a hobby but started taking it more seriously due to my competitive nature. I was cast in several operas right after graduation, and it seemed like a singing career would make it impossible for me to be of any direct value to our farm. I really loved farming and wanted to know what was going on at the farm when I wasn’t able to be physically present and this is what drove me to start exploring various technologies. I convinced my dad to allow me to install a remote monitoring system that would allow me to track and follow irrigation management decisions and how they were affecting our trees. I could see when and how long we irrigated and how that irrigation affected the soil profile. After proving the value of this type of information and technology, I wanted to do more, and ended up combining some of the precision technologies we were using during my internship with the NASA funded company with the remote monitoring information and worked with a team to develop an App for the iPhone and iPad.
I am really excited about sharing a little bit of what goes on in farming pistachios in California and debunking some of the ideas about backward thinking farmers. I’ll try to post something about what we are doing on our farm on a weekly basis and share with you what goes into a typical pistachio growing season. Thanks for reading! Eat more American pistachios!