On a recent trip to Missouri I got to tour a small pecan farm that is the perfect pecan sideline. Kevin and Vickie McGraw were the kind hosts of the fall meeting of The Missouri Nut Growers at their farm in St. Charles Missouri. The McGraws began planting pecans 24 years ago after purchasing their 15 acres in the (then) country. The city has since moved in around them but, their pecan covered island is shady, tranquil and productive.
The farm named McGraws Hilltop Pecan Farm is gently sloping with the house on the highest part. Seven of the total 15 acre farm is planted with pecans for a total of about 275 trees. A nice lake is on one side of the farm which can provide water for irrigation if needed. The soil is a deep loess and the farm sits on high ground near the Missouri River.
Dr. McGraw, who is a dentist, began planting the recommended varieties at the time 24 years ago , Kanza and Pawnee on 30 foot centers. Kanza was a relatively new introduction at the time that has proven itself with growers everywhere including the northern reaches of pecan production. Pawnee is an outstanding nut, but is highly susceptible to pecan scab (a fungus) and has to be sprayed to get a crop. There was much discussion among the members of the association regarding the 30 foot spacing of the trees. Dr. McGraw stated his original plan was to remove every other tree at 25 years. It is now 24 years later and the trees are quite large… and he is now 24 years older. He said in hindsight that the wider spacing may have been the better decision. Several of the other growers present said they had done the same thing and later wished they had not. Usage of the space between widely spaced trees was also discussed. Cutting hay or growing pumpkins between the the trees as they grow were productive alternatives.
In addition to Kanza and Pawnee, the McGraws have added some other pecan varieties to the farm, There are now some Meramec, Posey, Yates, Faith, Oswego, Peruque and Lakota. They are about to add several trees of Lipan as well.
The trees are producing nicely. Harvest is performed by shaking the trees using a tractor mounted tree shaker. Shaking not only drops the nuts from the trees but also a lot of leaves and twigs. The leaves are blown away with a backpack blower, the twigs are picked up and removed from the orchard. The nuts are picked up by push type Bag-A-Nut pickers. This year the McGraws have purchased a pull- behind Bag-A-Nut harvester which they will pull with their zero turn radius mower. The nuts are dumped into bins and taken to the shed for sorting and cleaning.
The McGraws now have a Savage brand cleaner but, for several years they hand cleaned and sorted the crop. That was fine early on when production was low, but now at 4000 to 6000 pounds of nuts per year it’s a bit much to hand clean and sort. TheMcGraws expect the orchard to top out at 10,000 to 12,000 pounds per year. The cleaned and sorted nuts are taken to Shepherd Farms, another Missouri pecan producer for cracking and shelling. The shelled nuts are stored in a freezer until sold. Selling the nuts has been no trouble. Once someone tastes a fresh pecan: they have to have more!
The McGraws are able to manage all this around their regular jobs making this the perfect pecan sideline, rewarding, fun and profitable