Confession first, I am a newbie to Pecan farming, just one season, one growth ring on a tree going to two shortly!
It has been an interesting experience led by the quest to restore the health of a neglected orchard and realising a fair financial return from my efforts as a farmer. It personally took me some time to recognise that I am a food producer.
A lot of information in year one about pecan Farming
The learning curve has been steep, I am not afraid to seek out information which has certainly helped me as well as leverage relevant technology to gain time back! I must have listened to Nicole Masters audio book “For the love of soil, at least 6 times, travelling back and forth to Sydney and realised the transition to organic certification by Southern Cross Certified. In these 12 months the pleasures and rewards have been simple;
- Cracking and tasting freshly fallen pecans.
- Eating fresh peas from the orchard floor in the early summer months
- Watching the wildlife explore the orchard from Kangaroos to echidnas.
Also challenging but accomplished in the last year;
- Putting in an entire new sprinkler irrigation system.
- Setting up a on site processing plant for my pecans and third party cracking.
- Pruning 20% of a very hairy neglected orchard!
To date, unfortunately one tree did die during my first year of stewardship. However, we are planting replacement trees where previous Pecan trees existed though never replaced in the last decade after the Orchard founder sold the farm to previous owners.
Pecan farming requires a steady stream of effort/management,” lazy mans farming “was the vendors cry when thinking about buying, lol!!!!
More than 100 farmers in Australia
There are I am told, some 100 pecan farms in Australia, dominated by a large public corporation who can control, with some 95% of total production, the price in the local market, ie Australia to wholesalers and probably retailers. Pecan Famers with thousands of trees have the economies of scale to operate in this wholesale market, Famers I suggest, with several hundred to just a few thousand trees have the opportunity to segment the market beyond chocolate coated pecans and add medium to long term value to their Pecan farming operations. To gain an idea of what I mean scroll through the back catalogue of ABC’s landline program watching farmers who are shaking up accepted practices and foods to grow new segments of a scale that can support them financially, who knew Black garlic would be a thing!
Such transitions and segmentation take time and effort, to often we accept the returns tabled and the way of doing things. Pecan Farmers who I speak with regularly and are reasonably new to the sector, will challenge the paradigms of the old! That challenge may lift economic returns to our farms in the short to medium term to release opportunities to enjoy the things we like beyond lifestyle.
I can personally vouch for this questioning and challenging of accepted practices in my first season, earning a greater financial return by selling a few hundred kilos of cracked and shelled pecans direct and via a wholesaler once the processing plant was built and on line within a 3 month window, against the tonnes of Nut in shell sold with a 6 month payment plan attached, in real financial terms my financial loss. Does that hurt, yes it does because I appreciate the effort required to collect Pecans from the orchard floor to the fruit bin and beyond and the value of my time and that of others in harvesting Pecan!
The cultural shift in tastes and awareness of food miles, organic v non organic and knowing where your food comes from is a real thing and presents an opportunity for a story to be told and an appreciation of single source food. When first told the story of New Zealand’s clothing company “ice breaker “over a decade ago, I thought crazy, who wants to know which sheep’s back my clothes come from, turns out I did want to know and remain a fan of the brand more than a decade on! Ultimately is that not what those who have chosen to be organically certified farmers whether in Pecans or Peas or any other food product seek? To be recognised via their brand, ie “The Kootingal Pecan Company”, as custodians of the land, to give back on many levels, provide food for consumption that is good for the consumers health, the lands you farm and to generate a knowing satisfaction that the organic Pecan from your orchard allowed a consumer to enjoy a positive moment, however fleeting, about the choice they made today.