Our History | The People | Print


Pioneer Nursery is the largest supplier of pistachio rootstock in the United States. But don't let that fool you, because we run our business like a family-owned operation. We're dedicated to customer service, because we know that we're here for our growers. Just give us a call, and you'll get your questions answered promptly.

 

Our History

Left to Right—Ken Puryear, Lloyd Joley and Corky Anderson

It was by chance, or possibly fate, that Ken Puryear and Corky Anderson got together in the late 1960s. Ken had an established dental practice, and Corky was farming various row crops. The pistachio industry was virtually non-existent.

They toured the pistachio orchard of a mutual friend, and struck up their own friendship. With a keen interest in this new nut that was peaking many people's curiousity, they planted their first pistachio trees in 1967 and a year later, they started Pioneer. Ken retired from dentistry and the agricultural entrepreneurs formed a partnership which would transform an industry.

Lloyd Joley, circa. 1969

Puryear and Anderson traveled to the Chico Research Station and met with the Director, Mr. Lloyd Joley, who advised them on recommended varieties to plant and how to propagate them. In their first year, a large farming operation arrived on the scene and purchased every available tree. Within thirty days, the same company was back and ordered a similar amount for planting the following year. Instead of becoming pistachio growers, before they new it, they were in the nursery business.

After the first growing season, it was obvious that there was a genuine need to improve the quality of rootstock selections. The seed from Chico was overly hybridized, making it difficult to grow and bud. The pistachio industry in California was also struggling with a devastating fungal disease called Verticillium wilt. What was needed was a heartier rootstock compatible with the Kerman bud that could offer quality, consistency and disease resistance.

These pistachio trees are similar to the first trees produced by Anderson and Puryear

Pioneer Nursery immediately initiated a rootstock development program. Seed was obtained from the research station and elsewhere. The seeds were selected for uniformity of type, vigor, compatibility with the Kerman bud, and wilt resistance. Puryear and Anderson "pioneered" a new combination of rootstock and named it Pioneer Gold. At first, they were reluctant to release this new rootstock, and instead chose to test it. Some growers insisted on buying it before its official introduction. For over a decade Pioneer Gold was considered experimental. The initial harvests of the first trees began in 1975.

The results were a huge success. Pioneer Gold exhibited a heartier root system which produced high quality nuts with the consistency necessary to grow an industry. These first trees are still in production today, and are growing high quality pistachios. Now, more than 30 years after the first trees were planted, Pioneer Gold is the only hybrid pistachio tree that has withstood the test of time. To this day, no rootstock has surpassed the quality of the Pioneer Gold tree, which is why we call it "the Gold Standard" for the pistachio industry.

In 1999, Pioneer Nursery grew over a million trees to meet the orders of growers throughout the Western United States, truly a remarkable record by any standards.

The People

Along with Pioneer Nursery, Ken Puryear and Corky Anderson also own and manage over 2000 acres of pistachio groves near the southern end of California's Central Valley. Their contribution to the industry goes beyond the fact that they patented and now supply the majority of rootstock to pistachio growers. Both have been active in the California Pistachio Commission as well, and have helped build the industry for the benefit of all. As experts in the field of pistachios, they know the problems growers face, because they too are growers.

The following is a brief outline of key employees:

Corky Anderson

 

Corky Anderson, Co-founder of Pioneer Nursery
Corky planted his first pistachio orchard in Tulare County in 1969 and has been an active member of the industry ever since. His involvement with the California Pistachio Commission includes Alternate Commissioner/Commissioner from 1981-83 and Marketing Chairman from 1984-88, at which time he was influential in helping to adopt standards for the industry and an anti-dumping duty on Iranian pistachios. He has also been a Director of the Western Pistachio Association and Chairman of Pistachio Growers, Inc.

     

Ken Puryear

 

Ken Puryear, Co-founder of Pioneer Nursery
In partnership with Corky, Ken also planted his first pistachio orchard in 1969. In 1989, he helped form Pistachio Growers, Inc (PGI), a co-op which currently involves 59 growers, handling approximately 8 million pounds of product annually. Ken has been an active member of the California Pistachio Commission since 1989, serving both on the Marketing Committee and Production Research Committee.

     
Brian Blackwell

Brian Blackwell

 

Brian Blackwell, Manager & Technical Director of Field & Nursery Operations
Brian was raised in a family of pistachio growers and was found to be a valuable asset when he was hired in 1997. He served as a volunteer to the California Pistachio Commission's Production Research Committee for 10 years, before being elected a Vice Chairman of the Commission in 1998. Brian has served as a member of Administrative, Marketing and Production Research Committees as well as Chairman of the Administrative Committee. In 2000, Brian was elected Chairman of the California Pistachio Commission and is currently serving his term.

Prior to joining Pioneer, Brian was employed by Paramount Farming Company as the west side pistachio manager, managing over 10,000 acres of pistachios, and has been involved in pistachio management since 1984. Today, he is responsible for sales, grower relations and research and development for Pioneer Nursery.

     
Francis Molina

Francis Molina

 

Francis Molina, Quality Control Supervisor
A loyal and valuable employee, Francis has been with Pioneer Nursery for over 30 years. Her service includes supervising approximately 30 seasonal employees in seed harvesting, planting in the greenhouse, transplanting and shipping.

     
Kevin Blackwell

Kevin Blackwell

 

Kevin Blackwell, Comptroller
Kevin has been employed with Pioneer Nursery for over 15 years as comptroller. His knowledge and dedication to Pioneer Nursery have made him a great asset to our team. Kevin is also involved with Pistachio Growers, Inc. cooperative and works on the Western Pistachio Association NutPac Breakfast and Golf Tournament every year.

     
Kevin Blackwell

Andy Schweikart

 

Andy Schweikart, Nurseryman
Andy was hired by our management company in 1995 to oversee day-to-day operations on approximately 1500 acres of pistachios. In 1999, he moved over to the nursery to train under Bud Knight. Today, Andy manages all day-to-day operations at the nursery, using the same skill and care that was handed down to him. Andy's commitment to quality assures we consistently provide the best product available in Pioneer Gold.

     
Bud Knight

Bud Knight

  Bud Knight, Nurseryman
After over 22 years as head of day-to-day operations in our nursery, Bud retired from Pioneery Nursery. His dedicated service and knowledge of horticulture made him a valuable employee since 1979. We all wish Bud well in his retirement.