Pecan farming is a full time job

During the holidays this time of the year many of us enjoy pecans, just fresh out of the shell or as a component in one of our favorite treats. What may surprise you is the amount of time and work it takes to produce a commercial pecan crop. Andy Sherrod manages a Burleson County pecan orchard.

“Now pecans will produce naturally but they don’t produce commercial crops naturally. They need three things, food, water, and sunlight, and we mange those three components. The food, of course, with supplemental fertilization. We manage the water through supplemental irrigation, and then the sunlight is sort of a concept that some people have a hard time grasping until they hear how we do that.”

Sherrod says that the trees are planted on a forty-five by forty-five foot spacing.

“If we allowed them to grow to their natural size, then they’re going to begin to encroach on each other’s space. The limbs will grow together. They’ll shade each other out, and they’ll compete for the available sunlight, so we’re on a hedging program here. Every year we’re cutting some trees, somewhere in the orchards to keep that canopy small and compact and allow sunlight around the entire surface of that tree, so that it has adequate photosynthetic energy to produce the crop we’re asking it to produce.”

Sherrod says that hedging begins in winter and is completed before bud break in April.

“That’s when the leaves come out and we begin our protective sprays and our fertilization, foliar fertilization. Every two weeks we’re spraying zinc. Pecans need a lot of zinc. That makes for a broader, longer leaf to give it a nice photosynthetic surface to generate food for the tree.”

Fertilization and any protective spraying continues until July.

“Of course we’re irrigating throughout the latter part of the summer, as the rains begin to fall off, and we keep that one to two inches of water per week that the trees need in order to produce high quality kernels. And then the middle of October we start the harvest process and that lasts until we’re done. The weather’s been really good this year. We’re going to be through before Christmas which is unusual for us.”

So unlike you might have thought, the pecans many of us traditionally enjoy this time of year required a full year of work to produce.