Dave Wilson Nursery Inc.

Grounded in Family Ownership and Growing Smarter for 75 Years
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Victor Martins

Located in California’s fertile Central Valley region, Dave Wilson Nursery Inc. (DWN) is in the midst of an unprecedented expansion and a 75-year celebration. “We just celebrated our 75-year anniversary,” reveals Dennis Tarry, now CEO of DWN. “We had 800 of our growers come to our headquarters in Hickman, Calif., for a big party and family barbecue.”

The celebration was well-deserved, as DWN has established itself as one of the U.S.’ largest growers of deciduous fruit, nut and shade trees. “We have more than 1,600 nursery acres in the Central Valley,” notes Tarry.

Taking Root in Family Ownership

Nearly 2,000 acres of nursery area is truly exceptional, considering where DWN began in 1938 on a small plot of rented land near Modesto, Calif. “DWN was established in 1938 by Dave Wilson, former owner and founder,” recalls Tarry. “He eventually handed the company down to his son-in-law, John Wynn, in the 1950s. Wynn purchased our now main office site along the Tuolumne River in 1967 and eventually passed DWN onto his son-in-law, Robert Woolley. Woolley resides as the current owner.”

Today, DWN remains located just outside of Hickman, east of Modesto in the Sierra Nevada foothills, growing trees for both commercial orchards and the home-garden trade. “Our main nursery is in Hickman, but we also have a remote experimental testing and demonstration orchard, along with a sales office in Reedley, Calif.,” notes Tarry. “We average about 350 employees, but that number peaks up to about 550 on a seasonal basis.”

Over the years, DWN’s sales have expanded beyond the Central Valley to all corners of the U.S. and even Asia. “We have accounts on the East Coast, but we predominantly serve California, Oregon and Washington State,” details Tarry.

Tarry, who’s been with DWN for more than 13 years now, has been influential in the company’s continued success in rising to the top of the market. “I’ve always owned my own orchard or was in farming in some capacity in early years,” he recounts. “But out of college, I was destined for the health care world. I was the chief financial officer for a hospital for eight years before I decided to get into database consulting.”

This career shift landed Tarry directly in the path of DWN several years later. “I started my own database consulting business and ended up doing some work for DWN,” he shares. “The owner asked me to stay and help him manage the company and a few years later, I was the CEO.”

Gaining Global Ground

Since joining DWN, Tarry has helped launch the company into new and upcoming markets on a global scale. “Our business is pretty much divided into two sectors; we supply the orchard industry with permanent fruit and nut crops for the state of California and commercial orchards, including peaches, nectarines, cherries, almonds and walnuts and we also sell to the home-garden business through local garden centers and wholesalers.”

Some of DWN’s plants end up in large, national retail stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. “We don’t sell directly to Lowe’s and Home Depot, but we go through wholesalers who distribute to these national chains,” explains Tarry.

However, the area in which DWN has seen the most growth is in the nut business. “The walnut and almond industry are in a huge boom,” reveals Tarry. “The walnut and almond’s health benefits, coupled with the ease of transportation and storage, make the product accessible to the lower middle class in developing countries. Almonds don’t require cold storage or refrigeration and they travel exceptionally well. The market for them in China and India is huge.”

Trademark Technology for Better Genetics

From walnuts to almonds, DWN is also paving the way in genetics, improving the fruit and nut business worldwide. The company has formed a strong partnership with Zaiger Genetics (Zaiger), a family-owned and –operated firm out of Modesto, Calif. The Zaiger family has since achieved a global prominence for their robust fruit and rootstock breeding programs.

“We’re the sole licensor for Zaiger’s fruit trees in the U.S.,” notes Tarry. “Zaiger is the pre-eminent fruit breeder in the world right now. They’re the kings of the fruit world, as far as I’m concerned, with an outstanding reputation worldwide.”

DWN is exclusively licensed for the patented technology in the U.S., but Zaiger also has a presence in Europe, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South America. “Our most successful product that’s relatively new to the market is Zaiger’s self-fertile almond,” reveals Tarry. “Right now, it accounts for approximately 70 percent of our almond sales, which is impressive in such infancy.”

The new high-quality, self-fertile almond is exclusively carried by DWN and its stirring up quite a buzz. “Growers are enthusiastic about this variety for its size and flavor, but also for its early, heavy production,” explains Tarry. “The self-fertile almond requires only one shaking and one harvest and research shows that it can set full commercial crops with fewer bees, because the variety doesn’t need a pollen donor in the orchard to grow.”

Going with the Flow

Tarry says the boom in the nut industry comes at a great post-recession time for DWN. “We’re in a very cyclical industry,” he explains. “The biggest challenge is keeping up with and meeting the demands of our products, and government regulations and labor laws have a huge impact on that. We’re big advocates of a responsible guest-worker program, but that doesn’t seem to be a top government priority right now.”

Despite challenges in federal regulations, interference and the recession, Tarry says he’s proud to note DWN has maintained its people and profitability over recent years. “We try to be as vertically integrated as we can be,” he says. “We don’t outsource any administrative services; and very few raw materials. We generally keep everything in-house and that helped us pull through the downturn.”

Tarry goes on to note that even through the recession, DWN wasn’t forced to lay anyone off, and the company even managed to maintain profitability. “We’ve actually almost doubled our size in the last four years,” he continues. “We’re currently working on expanding our cold storage and doing mechanical updates to meet demand.”

For the better part of a century, Dave Wilson Nursery Inc. has been rooted in family ownership and committed to growing smarter while building industry-leading partnerships.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Garton Tractor
Mid Valley Agricultural Services, Inc.
N&S Tractor