Since last spring, when she took over Shalako Pecan Farm, a 200-tree, 8-acre production, processing and retail operation near Casa Grande, Ariz., Penny Bagnall has learned quite a bit about running the business.

“The most important thing I learned is that I can do it,” says the former secretary. “The farm was my father’s dream, and I like working outdoors.”

Her father, Chuck Mackley, planted the orchard, which includes Western Schley and Wichita, in 1984 as a retirement hobby. Today, that hobby has become a full-time business, complete with a shaker, cracker, sheller, sorter, blower final inspection table, roaster and store.

Bagnall, who operates all the equipment, is helped by her mother, Jane, and several part-time employees.

Selling directly to consumers appeals to her, and packaged products include seven different flavors of shelled pecans and two pecan candies.

“I like the contact with our customers, who come not only to our place of business, but also our home,” she says. “And, I like creating flavored pecans, using the recipes I’ve developed.”

Normally, water supplies have been adequate for the flood-irrigated trees, but because of record-setting heat this summer, Bagnall expects to exceed her allotment and end up buying additional water to meet the orchard’s needs.

Diseases have never posed a threat to the trees, she says. The main insect problems are aphids — both the green and the more destructive black-margined species. “As long as we keep the ground disked up between monthly irrigations, we can keep the orchard free of vegetation that can harbor insects. For the past 15 years, we’ve been fortunate to have lacewings to keep the aphids cleaned up. But, twice in that time, we’ve had to buy more lacewings from a supplier.”

As of mid-August, Bagnall says, trees were looking good. “They were growing as they should, with an average of three to four nuts per cluster.”

So far, her biggest production challenge has been coping with the high price of UAN 32, which is metered into the irrigation water. Last year, she spent $700 for the nitrogen source every time she irrigated.

This year, Bagnall has cut fertilizer use to every other watering, reducing the cost by about $50 per irrigation, “As a result, we’ll probably see some loss of production and quality at harvest,” she says. “But, some fertilizer is better than none.”