Wonderful Orchards, LLC
Member Since 1988
Director Since March 2016
FAMILY BACKGROUND: In the early 1920s, Rob Yraceburu’s great grandfather immigrated to the United States from Spain and began homesteading in the San Joaquin Valley on 160 acres of dry land west of Five Points. Of course, that was before the California aqueduct and irrigation transformed the valley into the rich agricultural mecca it is today. That makes Rob a fourth generation California farmer, though he admits the farming history isn’t quite that deep.
His great grandfather truly did begin farming almost 100 years ago, but circumstances ended the pursuit somewhere along the way. It wasn’t until the early 1960s, that his grandfather resurrected the agricultural gene and began growing grapes and producing raisins in the same general vicinity.
Rob’s dad also farmed valley land near Kerman, but he made his living as a pest control advisor…the same career Rob believed he was destined for during his college years.
Rob’s AG JOURNEY BEGINS: “I went to Kerman High School and my earliest job was as a field checker for an ag chemical company,” he said. “I then went to Fresno State and my goal was to be a farmer and PCA, following in Dad’s footsteps.”
He did go to CSU Fresno along with his girlfriend, Gayle Nord, also from Kerman. Both graduated with agricultural degrees, got married and were intent on living the farm life. “But in the mid-1980s, ag was not in a good space. There were not many ag jobs, though there were three banks offering me employment in the ag lending sector.”
And thus began a 30-year banking career.
SEEING AGRICULTURE THROUGH A BANKER’S EYES: While with his first banking employer—Farm Credit, Rob went back to CSU Fresno and earned a master’s degree in ag economics, while his wife was getting her teaching credential. In 1987, they bought their first farm together, which was a small vineyard in Kerman. But his career path was in motion and banking was stamped on the ticket.
After a short stint with Farm Credit, Rob became a junior loan officer for Wells Fargo and spent the next three decades moving his wife and their family of three daughters up and down the state as he rose through the ranks. “I think we moved six or seven times,” he said, which included several stops in Bakersfield and Fresno, the San Francisco Bay area and Orange County.
His scope of responsibility changed from time to time including running the $14 billion national food and ag division for Wells Fargo, which included all of the United States and Canada. At other points in his career he had different positions and areas of focus stretching from San Diego to San Francisco and from the California coast to its eastern borders.
A SECOND CAREER: Sometime in the late 1980s, Rob Yraceburu was assigned to the account of Stuart Resnick and Paramount Farming. At the time he served in a very junior position but it began a business relationship with Resnick that lasted throughout his career. “We developed a great relationship,” he said.
In 2014, Yraceburu was living in Orange County with his family and reluctant to move. In fact, he had turned down several relocation opportunities with Wells Fargo. “Things were going well, but then Stuart Resnick called and said he was working on a succession plan and thought I could be part of it. It took about six months of talking, but I did agree to come over to the company and move to Bakersfield.”
WONDERFUL ORCHARD: Resnick’s succession plan was to name Yraceburu president of the farming entity, which was renamed Wonderful Orchard a month after the new leadership was in place. “We are the largest producers of almonds, pistachios and pomegranates in the world. We have 90,000 acres from Kern County up through Madera,” he said.
Not too long ago, the company took out a large block of almond trees in a never-ending quest to have the right balance and have each orchard producing maximum results. While those acres were pulled, Yraceburu said the company is still selectively purchasing new land where it makes sense. Of course, water is the component that makes the difference and makes some land more attractive than other plots.
Yraceburu and his team farm the land and then turn it over to another arm of the Wonderful family of companies for processing, packaging, selling and marketing.
BACK TO HIS ROOTS: Coming from the corporate world of banking, in Rob’s mind he is finally being the farmer he always wanted to be. He admits that if he had been a small farmer riding a tractor all these years and was now running Wonderful Orchards, he might see it more as a desk job. “It’s all a matter of perspective,” he quipped.
A FAMILY MAN: While he did move his family around a lot in his early years of banking, Yraceburu tried to stay in Orange County for the latter portion as his three daughters moved through their more formative years. As mentioned, he turned down some opportunities to stay put, which is what he promised his wife he would do. Today, daughter Laura is a 22-year old in Seattle getting ready to go to law school. Emily is 21 and finishing up her college career at Cal State Fullerton, while 18 year-old Sarah just started her freshman year at UC Irvine.
Rob and Gayle enjoy outdoor living, including water and snow skiing and playing golf. He has also spent quite a bit of time serving on various boards for many different groups over the length of his career.
THE WESTERN GROWERS CONNECTION: He credited the late Bob Grimm of Grimmway Farms for first introducing him to Western Growers at the Annual Meetings when Bob was the chairman. “I’ve gone to quite a few of the meetings since then and have always appreciated that Western Growers is the voice of ag production.”
Yraceburu said other organizations have many different factions that they represent that can lead to a lack of progress on important issues. “Western Growers is never conflicted about who they represent.”
It is a distinction he appreciates and was always very evident even during his years in the ag lending sector, but is doubly important now that he is in ag production. “We (Wonderful) think it is very important to be associated with Western Growers as its represents its constituency and speaks for the industry with a united voice.”