According to the 1987 Ag census there are 11,655 pecan farms across the nation. Within that group 57% also produce cattle or other livestock. This is a necessity for most pecan growers to even out income because of the alternate bearing habit of pecans. The converse is also true; the native pecans found on many ranches can provide some assistance to the cash flow of the cattle operation. Time and expenses are real factors for a rancher when considering the development of a native grove. A rancher taking on another enterprise needs to make sure that he gets the most bang for his limited buck. A few months ago I discussed some key points of native pecan production (thinning, fertilizing, insect control, drainage, etc.). Production, however, is not the only key to profitability. Post-production handling and processing (harvesting, cleaning, sizing, grading) may give growers the necessary tools to successfully market their pecans for top prices.
The price of harvest and cleaning equipment is restrictive for many ranches with a small or moderate number of trees. According to Texas A&M, it takes about 100 acres of native trees to pay for the basic equipment necessary. This is due to the generally low price and inconsistent production of native trees. This should not necessarily deter the small grower from taking advantage of his crop. There are custom harvesters in most areas where pecans are produced.
In many cases, this is a neighbor in the pecan business that is willing to supplement his pecan income and help pay for his own equipment. Usually pecans are either harvested "on the halves," splitting the crop equally between grower and harvester, or a price is paid per pound harvested. Another alternative is leasing the trees to another producer who will manage the trees totally, including fertilizing, spraying, pruning, harvest floor cleanup, harvesting and cleaning. Trees may be leased by the tree, by the acre, or by a percent of saleable nuts. Custom cleaning is also available in pecan growing areas, and sizing and grading if the equipment is on hand, usually for a few cents per pound. Paying someone else to hire the help, own the equipment and have the expertise is necessary for the small producer. When you consider time, trouble, and inclination, it may pencil out better for the big producer as well (in the corporate world they call this out-sourcing.)
However you get your pecans in the sack, the next step is to market your crop. Pecan buyers will quote a "door price" when asked. This is the price they will give for anyone bringing pecans in the door to sell. These nuts are usually of mixed quality and size; they may be very wet or full of weevil damage. Without knowing exactly what he is paying for, the buyer must give a lower price. When a grower has good quality pecans that are sized and graded, he can command a better price by offering a uniform crop with a known percent kernel, kernel color, and number per pound. The buyer is able to give a better price because he knows what he is buying.
Thousands of pecan trees remain unmanaged along our creeks and rivers. Maybe some of them are on your place; it might make sense to take advantage of them. Their income does come about the time that taxes are due on the place. Native pecans are certainly not a panacea, but there is an infrastructure and ready market for them.