Following Footsteps...Values Run Deep
California Nurseryscape
April 1, 2007

"Grow trees of the highest quality, sell trees with the highest integrity, and represent them honestly."

Words to live by if you are a Burchell. The family has dedicated their lives to the success of the nursery, and to the service and success of its customers. Their mission-provide growers with the healthiest, most productive stock that can be propagated for high yield, has exceptional color and flavor, and has the ability to stand up to the rigors of packing and shipping-has spanned more than six decades

The family-owned and operated Burchell Nursery is a recognized leader in California's nursery industry. The nursery sells more than 2 million deciduous bareroot fruit and nut trees annually, specializing in peaches, nectarines, almonds and walnuts for commercial growers.

Burchell Nursery claims to be no overnight success. It took decades of lessons learned in the fields. It took three generations of personal experience growing and harvesting trees. It took acres of premium land. It took thousands of experiments. But the time and effort paid off. In 2007, Burchell Nursery proudly celebrates 65 years serving the California nursery industry.

Three Generations
Irvin Burchell, born in 1900, grew up on a grain ranch in Merced County. With a degree in Pomology from the University of California, Berkeley, he planted some of the first fig orchards in Fresno. By the '30s, he was working as a grower for several different nurseries. At this time, Irvin established a branch location for a Stanislaus County nursery planting peaches. When the United States entered World War II, the nursery decided to close this branch. In 1942, Irvin and Esther Burchell used their savings to purchase the "branch office" for $2,500 in Modesto, California. This branch location would grow into what is now Burchell Nursery.
With years of experience in the California fruit industry, Irvin possessed both the training and expertise to succeed in the nursery business. It was his passion for producing the best product that fed his perseverance. According to his son, Bill Burchell, "[his] vision as a businessman and skill as a nurseryman set the standard for generations to come."

Irvin passed on his passion to Bill, who was just a small boy when the nursery began. After earning a degree in Pomology from University of California, Davis, Bill took his place alongside Irvin in the nursery. Together, father and son built the organization that customers have come to trust and rely on.
Bill took over as president in the '70s and went on to lead the company for three decades. All the while, Bill's son, Tom Burchell, worked beside his father, learning the nursery process as his father had. In 1990, Tom graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and joined the nursery full time.

For 56 years, the family maintained the original location, a green and white farmhouse, which served as a landmark to those heading east on Highway 108. In 1997, the nursery was moved to 700 acres in Oakdale, where they had already grown rootstock for 25 years. Set amid rolling hills, the current location offers the best sun, soil and growing conditions for the 1.5 to 2 million trees raised at any given time.

In 2003, a second facility in Fresno, California, was opened to allow for greenhouse-grown trees. Over the last four years, potted trees production has grown from 10 to 25 percent of overall production.

Father and son worked together until Bill handed over the reins in 2004, leaving Tom to take on the role of president. Since taking over operations, Tom concentrates on breakthrough research, introducing new hybrid crosses and varieties, and continuing the excellent service that the nursery is known for.

Guided by Values
Burchell Nursery looks back on yesterday's proven successes and ahead to tomorrow's innovations to shape the core values guiding the business-quality, integrity, consistency, and innovation.

Quality - "From seed to sale, quality remains the benchmark by which we measure our success."

For over 30 years, Burchell Nursery has focused on creating what they proudly call Healthy Start Trees(tm). Healthy Start Trees are 100-percent-certified virus checked and virus free.  The nursery owes the success and magnitude of this program to nursery employee, Rufus Santos, who took on the responsibility to eliminate viruses from commercial varieties and establish clean sources of budwood for the nursery. For three decades, Rufus has developed a phenomenal program that has become the model for others.

Integrity - "We are the nursery of choice for many Central Valley growers because of our willingness to walk the fields, to understand your needs and above all, to treat you with honesty and respect."

Burchell's highly trained and dedicated field staff represents more than 90 years of hands-on experience. Although they are one of the largest nurseries in the western United States, they boast that their customer service is as personal as a handshake. Burchell Nursery understands the importance in maintaining a comfortable, one-on-one relationship with its customers.

With their bi-annual newsletter, Root Matters, the Burchells stay in touch with customers, keeping them apprised of nursery affairs-from new hires to new varieties, the latest issues affecting the industry, as well as general matters that impact businesses across the board.

"In one issue, we ran an article on passing on the family business to the next generation. It was a topic we were obviously familiar with, and that we knew so many of our customers were dealing with themselves. So many of them are family-run as well," explained Tom.

Consistency - "As far as we're concerned, quality and consistency go hand-in-hand. We do everything we can to make sure the same level of quality is there time and time again."

In the 65 years in business, four men have maintained the detailed records of the nursery's "mother source." Keeping accurate pedigree records allows the nursery to be confident in its product. "My grandfather always said...'never give a customer a peach when they asked for a nectarine,'" says Tom.

Innovation - "We continue to develop new ways of keeping our nursery on the cutting edge. We are setting the pace in plant breeding and research and development."

There are many areas in which the nursery have set the pace, including the development of plant breeding and product development divisions; growing of their own seeds and budwood; the use of tissue culture to produce a steady supply of consistent product; and the implementation of sustainable agricultural practices.
Even in the beginning, Irvin recognized the need to stay new. As the industry changed, so did Irvin and the nursery. He worked with breeders of his time to introduce new varieties, all the while listening to customers' wants, paying attention to what the market needed. Irvin developed the first patented almond varieties. Each generation continues to work with the industry's best breeders, producing new and improved fruit and nuts. Over all, Burchell Nursery has introduced 40 patented varieties.

The most current innovation from Burchell Nursery is the self-fertile almond. After 20 years of research, the nursery patented the first of several varieties of self-fertile almonds in the fall of 2006. Propagation in commercial quantities is still a year or two away, but the option of planting a large block of a single variety is close to becoming a reality.

According to Tom, it is all about efficiency, which means profits for all. "A single regime for water, fertilizer, pruning, and just one harvest. And a self-fertile variety will be far less dependent on bees to set a crop." The goal is to breed reproductive parts of self-compatible flowers that will rub together, providing pollination without pollinators. Of course, the trees must also meet the usual standards of production.

Decades of Support
Membership and participation in industry organizations is just one more element that all three generations have believed in. In 1948, Burchell Nursery became a member of what was then the California Association of Nurserymen. Bill served as president of the local Yosemite Chapter in 1970, and 15 years later, he took on the responsibility of association president for the 1985-86 year. Over the years, he served on nine different committees, most recently on Awards. Bill's wife, Edith, has served on the Scholarship Committee, while Tom participated on the Nursery Growers Council. The association recognized the dedication of the Burchells by awarding two distinctions-Pacific Coast Nurseryman Award in 1998 and Elmer J. Merz Memorial Award in 2003.

The importance of cultivating the next generation of farmers and nurserymen and women is recognized by the Burchells. They foster the youth of their Central Valley committee through scholarships to agricultural students at Modesto Junior College and contributions of trees to elementary and secondary school orchards. They are involved in the research programs at various California colleges and universities. Most recently, Burchell Nursery provided financial support to the Stanislaus County Agricultural Center, a consortium of businesses and government agencies vital to the local agricultural community.