Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Pecan harvest 2021: A view from the tractor seat

        This past week, I had the pleasure of starting the 2021 pecan harvest. Surprisingly, we still haven't experienced a killing freeze so split-open shucks are still green which has slowed the nut drying process (photo at right). However, our customers are clamoring for new-crop pecans so I decided to get an early start harvesting. These early harvested nuts will just need to dry down further inside a warm and dry barn.



     Back when I worked for K-State, I was able to photograph one of my employees operating the machines we use for pecan harvest. On my own farm, I'm a one man operation, so my view of harvest is confined to the seat of a tractor.  The first step in harvesting pecans is to shake the nuts out of the tree using a 3-point hitch mounted pecan shaker (photo at left). I hydraulically clamp the shaker onto the trunk of the tree then engage the power-take-off to rotate weights inside the machine. The moving weights create a back-and-forth motion which vibrates the entire tree. It only take a few seconds before nuts start raining down to the ground.

    When I purchased my shaker I was sure to get one equipped with  donut pads rather than hard rubber pads. With the super-thick donut pads I'm able to shake trees  when they first start cropping  (photo at right). With a tree as small as the one pictured at right I go easy on the throttle and give the tree just a few short bursts of light vibration.

Once I've shook a good number of trees, I hop into my picking tractor. I use a Savage pull-type pecan harvester to sweep pecans up from the ground (photo at left).  When harvesting pecans I always start outside the drip-line of the tree's canopy and work my way towards the trunk. One important thing to remember when operating a Savage harvester is that you can only make right-hand turns (a sharp left turn while the machine is running will break drive-line bearings).

   When I'm harvesting, I sit sideways on the tractor seat so I can keep my eye both ahead and behind. I've found that I've got to especially watch the front right corner of the harvester. To harvest as many pecans as possible, I need to steer as close to the trunk as I can without ramming the machine into the base of the tree. Since the harvester trails well outside of my right rear tractor tire, learning how to avoid hitting trees take a little practice.
    Once I've filled the hopper on the harvester with pecans, I'll drive up to my barn and dump the nuts into my pecan cleaner. When conditions are perfect for harvest, I'll keep harvesting during daylight hours then switch over to cleaning when the sun goes down.  Needless to say, I put in a lot of long days during the harvest season.