Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pecan Harvest - Gathering!!

Once the pecans have been swept into windrows they must be separated from the leaves and trash and collected into wagons. This work is done by the harvester - which performs much the same function as a combine in a traditional grain operation. Except in the pecan business the harvester is pulled behind the tractor and a wagon is pulled behind the harvester. If you think it looks difficult to maneuver, you are absolutely right. Not only is it long and awkward, it is also designed so the front wheels of the harvester must be lifted up from the ground when the tractor is turned around. Otherwise the front rims can collapse.

Fortunately the man operating the harvester in the photo is an expert. Bud ran the farm at Koinonia for over 30 years, and now he provides us with consulting advice. He had no problem moving the tractor with its entire train through the orchard rows. Only major problem was that he expected me to take over and run it for the rest of the day. Miraculously I was able to pick up (pun again) where Bud left off and continue harvesting the lower orchard. Surprizingly, it was not much more difficult that running a baler! Good thing we had that hay farm for the past few years...

For the most part, harvesting pecans is alot like harvesting grain - or even similar to harvesting hay. In each case you gather the crop into windrows. In the case of hay, you use a hay rake. For grain you use a swather and for pecans you have the sweeper. Then you gather up the crop into something so you can pick it up off the field and take it to market. For hay you have balers and bale wagons. Grain farmers use combines to separate the grain from the straw and chaff and store the grain in hoppers. When the hoppers are full, the grain is dumped onto trucks which take it to the storage bins. Pecan farmers use a harvester which picks up the windrow, uses a blower to remove leaves and trash, and a conveyor belt to move the heavier nuts, sticks and sometimes snakes (not joking here) into the trailing wagon.

Now you are probably thinking there is one major difference - and you are right. For hay and grain you have to cut or mow the crop before you start gathering it into windrows. For pecans, you take advantage of the rain, the wind and gravity. Except - these natural processes only bring a fraction of the of pecans to the ground and this happens over the course of weeks or even months.

Pecan farmers have recognized this problem and once again technology provided a solution. The TREE SHAKER!! This little machine moves along the ground, clamps its’ jaw on the tree trunk and literally shakes the nuts down. We don’t bring it out until we first harvest the naturally-fallen nuts because the shaker will run over the pecans and crack them.

While I have agreed to run the harvester, and even the sweeper, I think I will leave the shaker to Bud. Somehow I don’t think he will argue too strongly. The last two times they let someone other than Bud run the machine they forgot to release the jaw after shaking and managed to snap off the tree trunks as they drove away!

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