President of Fruit Growers Laboratory Inc. Santa Paula retires

June 30, 2004
Santa Paula News

Darrell Nelson, who held the position of President of Fruit Growers Laboratory, Inc. for the past thirty (30) years, retires at the end of June.

Darrell Nelson, who held the position of President of Fruit Growers Laboratory, Inc. for the past thirty (30) years, retires at the end of June. Darrell was a well known figure in the county and his contribution to agriculture locally is highly respected. He joined Fruit Growers Lab (not to be confused with Fruit Growers Supply) in 1971. He worked in field operations and as a bench chemist before assuming the responsibilities of president and laboratory director of the Santa Paula Laboratory in 1974.The operation consisted of six employees housed in approx 800 sq. ft in Steckel Drive when Darrell joined the laboratory as a young and eager graduate from UC Davis. His career is marked by significant milestones and major decisions which propelled the laboratory into growth and expansion, which today marks a very successful corporation employing 65 people. Current operations service not only the agricultural community but many areas of the highly regulated environmental industry.The first milestone for Darrell was to change the company’s legal status from a Non-Profit Cooperative to a standard California Corporation. There is no question that the very difficult and expensive transition of the laboratory from a co-op to a corporation was more than worth it from the point of positioning the laboratory for change and growth. The first effect of this transition was their ability to develop inroads into the environmental business. New regulations were coming into play in California that required extensive analytical capabilities. States Nelson “Although we had certifications primarily for wet chemistry and bacteriological testing, we were now able to invest in developing testing methods to service the growing environmental market.”The decision to establish and staff a radio chemistry laboratory proved to be a good one. Viewed skeptically at the time by other laboratories, this move positioned the laboratory uniquely to service not only drinking water purveyors and waste water generators but also other laboratories who did not have a radiological testing service. Following this, the laboratory continued to develop and expand with the addition of metals and ultimately the full suite of organic analyses.And expand it did. Under Darrell’s leadership the company moved to Corporation Street and over the next 20 years the expansion of it’s business directed its building program. The company’s business expanded not just locally but throughout California. In order to take advantage of the growing agricultural business in the Central Valley, a field office was established in Visalia. To support customers in Northern California, Darrell purchased a small laboratory in Stockton. As the company grew, new business opportunities took the company to markets in Utah, Nevada, New York, Colorado and further afield to support customers in Mexico, Japan and Saipan.
At an early time in the company’s growth, Darrell made a commitment to maintain ‘state of the art’ instrumentation and a high level of automation to support their customers with the increasingly demanding regulatory requirements. A subsequent decision to develop their programming capabilities in-house earned the company the proud achievement of being recognized by the Department of Energy as a commercial laboratory with one of the best Laboratory Information Management Systems in the industry.The company’s latest building addition of 10,000 sq. ft. in Santa Paula will launch the company to its next phase of growth but in a different way. “We are planning to expand our capability without additional staff,” says Nelson. “Capabilities in the analytical industry are measured by staff experience and instrumentation." Good work conditions, pay and benefits have enabled the company to maintain a loyal work force. Darrell’s understanding of the industries the company serves and good financial planning enabled the company to position itself to take advantage of business opportunities and to support their customers in the environmental and agricultural industries.All of Fruit Growers Laboratory’s milestone were surpassed and built upon while at the same time improving the company’s services and capabilities to their original, loyal and long standing customers in the agricultural industry.“We are in the throes of formalizing our latest milestone,” Darrell Nelson stated at a recent reception held in his honor by Board of Director members, shareholders and staff. “This milestone is our plan for the future. This includes more transition and coincidently means handing over the reins to younger executives to develop the company into its next phase of growth. In this regard, I have every confidence in the new president of the company, Kelly Dunnahoo and all the staff at FGL.”

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