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Producers report bumper crop of Missouri pecans

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Lynn A. Wade/Daily Mail Steve, who declined to give his last name, a purveyor of pecans, stands with a bag of the fresh pecans he said were "just shaken off the tree last Monday," at one of the last remaining crossroads accessing U.S. 71 in northern Vernon County. Construction to convert U.S. 71 to interstate standards will be completed by the end of the year and will put an end to such roadside vending along the corridor that will become Interstate 49.
By Lynn A. Wade

Nevada Daily Mail

The pecan harvest is the best in years, but it's bittersweet for some as roadside vendors disappear along the corridor.

Hand-painted signs alert drivers on U.S. 71 to what's ahead -- "PECANS" -- that's all it says. It's enough, though, to tempt passersby to stop to see the local vendor, selling the tasty treats from his pickup.

Steve, who declined to give his last name, has made a tradition of the roadside sales for years. With the transformation of U.S. 71 to Interstate 49, he mused, those days will be gone. After this year, there'll be no more road side pecan sales on that corridor. "You can't sell 'em on an overpass," he said.

But that's OK. They'll find another place to sell next year's crop of pecans.

Florence Wilson of Wilson Pecans, near Compton Junction, said that the advent of the interstate has changed the access to her grove and store significantly. "It's definitely made a difference. I don't even know if I'll open my shop. It's not easy for them (passersby on the highway) to find me. They'd have to know just where to turn to get there," Wilson said.

Instead, the Wilsons will focus on filling mostly commercial orders and on cleaning the nuts for other producers. "We've updated our cleaning plant," she said. "Hopefully it'll work out. Things seem to work out for the best."

Wilson said she'll still sell retail to long-term customers who continue to call on her; and, on the upside, "The harvest is wonderful. We have a lot of nuts, and lately the weather has been ideal." Many times during the hot, dry summer, Wilson said, she'd thought the nuts would start dropping off the trees prematurely, "but they didn't. The quality is good, the fill is good, and I would call it a bumper crop." That's welcome, she said. "It's been several years since we had a really good crop."

Steve agrees. He said the grower he sells pecans for has had a great crop, despite the severe drought that plagued producers all summer. "It seemed like they just popped out," Steve said.

Drew Kimmel of Missouri Northern Pecan Growers, Nevada, said that although the roadside vendors will no longer be able to sell along the road when U.S. 71 becomes Interstate 49, he expects the change to have little impact on the co-op.

"Our market is the world," he said. In October, the company shipped 7,000 pounds of pecans to the Netherlands; 11,000 pounds to British Columbia and 1,000 pounds to Taiwan.

Missouri Northern Pecans specializes in organic pecans that also are being shipped to Saudi Arabia, China, and Dubai.

Local pecans also end up in grocery stores, health food stores, and inside about 20 brands of chocolate candies, including Endangered Species Chocolate in Indiana and Vosges Haut, New York.

He, too, is "amazed at how well the trees are doing when you consider two months of drought," and several days with temperatures of higher than 100 degrees in the area.

"They're doing much better than we expected," Kimmel said. "We're very happy about that," although some of this year's pecans have been small, and the smallest ones are thrown out.

Now that it's harvest time, dry weather's a positive thing -- the orchard floor must be dry to gather the pecans, or the machinery will roll up the nuts in mud balls, Kimmell said.

"The weather's been good, and people are going at a furious pace," he added, with this year's crop already in the "shellin' and shippin'" phase.

The price paid to producers for the nuts has yet to be established, but will probably be lower this year than in years past; but it's unlikely that the drop in price, if it occurs, will be reflected in grocery stores for several months.

Five great things about those Missouri pecans

1 Sweet flavor. Pecans grown in Missouri have a sweeter flavor than most other pecans. Growers attribute that to their smaller size and higher oil content.

2 Native treasure. Thousands of native pecan trees grow in Missouri's riverbottom regions.

3 An empty plate. They make great pies, which brings pecan-loving families home to the table again and again.

4 Energy to burn. They're a good source of protein and fiber, according to University of Missouri Extension nutrition specialists.

5 Heart health. The Journal of Nutrition said in January 2011 that the nuts are chock-full of Vitamin E, handy for helping control cholesterol.

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