A couple of decades ago, Garry Vance was a haul truck driver in search of a different goal. He found it in the tree nut industry and got into one variety over another by chance, not by choice.
“My pocketbook couldn’t afford almonds, but I found this rundown pecan orchard and thought, well, what the heck, tree nuts are tree nuts, right?” Vance said.
The ensuing years have taught him the error of his naive thinking, but he’s managed to be successful by starting out with a few acres of a 110-acre block with different owners, slowly expanding his ownership by accumulating additional acreage.
He and wife Ginger now own and operate the 185-acre Northern California Pecan Company (dba G and G Farms) in Corning, north of Sacramento. Focusing on Wichita and Pawnee varieties, he said: “We pulled 1,500 pounds to the acre on six-year-old trees last year and almost 500 pounds an acre on our four-year-old trees with high-density planting, carefully heading all our trees including the young ones.”
Vance, a former president of the California Pecan Growers Association said the industry itself in Northern California is expanding, albeit slowly.
“There’s a long-time thread involved here between planting and harvesting for any kind of lucrative return, a minimum of 10 years on most plantings,” he said. “Most people don’t have that kind of time to wait for a monetary return, so the growth rate is minimal, but it’s there and once the trees are producing, they continue to do so.”
Much of California’s pecan acreage is near the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley where the first orchards were planted nearly half a century ago. Reports CaliforniaPecan.net: “Northern California meets the requirements of basic pecan tree production because even with its less desirable soil, trees have the resiliency to withstand the natural elements and still produce equal production.”
Unusual soil texture
One of the reasons that make pecans a popular alternative nut crop in the northern region is its unusual soil texture.
“If you’ve got good soil, almonds and walnuts may be a more attractive crop,” Vance said. “But pecans are a good option for growing on marginal soils with more clay to hold in the moisture.”
With trees that were planted in the mid-1970s, his orchard is still a good producer.
“While many of the growers in my part of the state are saying they expect to be off from last year, the effect of poor irrigation scheduling last season that will produce a lower-yielding nut as a response to the tree stress, we look pretty good,” he says. “It should be an off year for our crop, and although it won’t be quite what it was last year, I believe it will be in the vicinity of 2,500 pounds plus per acre.”
Vance’s company is listed as “the only dedicated pecan processor in the state” and a calculated move on his part.
“There was no infrastructure for pecans in northern California,” he said. “We had to haul green nuts out of the orchard with all the waste and truck it down to processors in Visalia. That was a cumbersome process on many fronts—it wasn’t good to have nuts in the trailer that long and the freight costs were horrendous.”
Looking at this year’s pending hull dehisce and harvest season, he says growers are juggling all the usual problems -- water, regulations, labor shortages, tariffs, pests and diseases—and then some.
“It’s always all the normal things and this year you can add in the pandemic virus and its many negatives, but I remain optimistic going forward,” Vance said. “The American Pecan Council’s federal marketing order seems to be helping promote our product as a snack as well as for baking purposes and I think that will bear fruit.”
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