I know of a fella who bought a pecan orchard a few miles away from here a few years ago. The orchard consisted of around a hundred mature trees and sold for a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. This individual then went out and bought a hundred thousand dollars of pecan equipment. Two years later, the orchard and the equipment was up for sale for a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. Now we don't have to be all that good at math to find out what we can and can't afford to do. One mature pecan tree will produce no more than one hundred pounds of pecans on it's very best year. One hundred mature trees will produce ten thousand pounds of nuts on their best year. If the state of Georgia doesn't produce a single pecan, the very best price a Texas pecan grower can expect to receive for his crop is maybe two dollars a pound. All of that adds up to twenty thousand dollars, and a lot of us know we won't make a hundred pounds per tree, nor will we get two dollars a pound. So, let's get back to harvesting pecans.
When it comes to harvesting your pecan crop, you can choose the hard road and the less costly route, or you can bring in the fancy equipment that will make harvesting a breeze and with one bad year, send you into bankruptcy. First, you guys with the thousand acre orchards already have the fancy equipment and know all about harvesting pecans, and I don't even know why you're here. The rest of us, the good ol' boys with five or ten-acre pecan orchards, have to pick up nuts off the ground to make an extra buck or two. I have to throw this in before we move on. Every single time I pause and stoop down to pick up a stray pecan, I remember a statement I made to my first father-in-law way back when I was young and dumb. I was visiting him one fall around Thanksgiving and we wandered over to a large pecan tree in his front yard. The ground was littered with nuts and the old codger suggested I gather up a sack full and take them home. I sneered and remarked, "I wouldn't waste the effort to bend over and pick up a pecan!" I always get this feeling that he and the good Lord snicker as they peek down and watch me picking up nuts off the ground!
I started searching for a 'better way' to harvest my pecans when our trees were young and dropping no more than five or ten pounds a year. I tried the 'slinky-on-a-stick' tool one year (that was the year I discovered I had arthritis in my hands thanks to that little contraption.) The following year, I bought a shop vac and a converter so I could run it from my pickup. I spent more time unclogging the hose than I did picking up nuts. I got plans to build a 'pecan harvester' from some guy on Ebay and discovered I'd need an engineering degree to build it. I toyed with the idea to build a harvester out of a swamp cooler...I still think it might work. Finally, after years of tired, aching bones, I ran across an ad from a company in Florida that builds a harvester that works. They call it the Bag-A-Nut and I endorse it wholeheartedly for those of you who work a small orchard. We use a PVC pole to 'whack' the pecans from the tree and I built a cleaning table out of a bed frame and mesh wire. All total, including a sprayer, the 'Bag-A-Nut harvester, an old Farmall 560 tractor, and my home-made tools, we have around three thousand dollars invested in equipment.
There are other options available. I understand there is a gigantic pecan orchard out in West Texas with thousands of acres of trees. From what I hear, they employ migrant workers and arm them with yard rakes to harvest their crop. I have a fella come by every year wanting to bring his crew in and 'rake up pecans' on the halves. If your orchard is sufficiently large enough to contract a custom harvester, they will bring their heavy equipment and get the job done in a day. And then there's the equipment you can actually own. There will come a time when our orchard will require more than the 'Bag-A-Nut.' I will not make an investment in harvesting equipment until I can do so profitably. If you choose to purchase your own equipment, I encourage you to start slow, with a piece at a time and shop around. The cheapest pecan equipment is overpriced so be cautious. I would suggest you purchase a pecan cleaner first. This will save you probably half of your time spent harvesting. A tree shaker will be needed eventually as your trees grow beyond the length of your 'whacking pole.'