Brian Blain planted his first pecan trees 35 years ago near Visalia, Calif. That was when he decided to quit his high school teaching job to see if he could turn his part-time farming business into a full-time enterprise, Blain Farms.
“Pecans were new to California then and it was kind of exciting to see how they would grow and if they would work out,” he says. Today, the secretary/treasurer of the California Pecan Growers has 1,000 acres of producing pecan trees in the Visalia and McFarland areas on the east side of the valley. Primarily Wichita, they also include two pollinators, Western Schley and Cheyenne.
He’s pleased with pecan prices this year compared to some other nuts. “Pecan prices have gone down a bit, but not like the big drop in almond and walnut prices,” he says. “Pecans seem to have weathered the economic storm last fall better than some other commodities.”
Blain has noticed variability in the condition of trees within his orchards this year. That may be due, in part to a March freeze, followed three days later by a heat wave. “At this stage of development, it’s very difficult to tell just how many nuts are on the trees,” he says. “But, it appears to be a good crop this year.”
The main concern this year for Blain, who flood irrigates, is the short water supply. Most of it is supplied by the Friant-Kern Canal on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. The rest comes from wells.
“We’ll be cutting it really close this year,” he says. “One 80-acre orchard may not have enough water to make it through the season, but we won’t know until we get into September.
“Pecan trees roots cover the entire orchard floor and require a fixed amount of water to produce nuts. If we try to short the trees on water, the kernels in the shells become shriveled and we end up with poor quality nuts — in many cases, fewer nuts as well.”