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When the River Runs Dry…..( 2011 Update)

The Floodplain of the Nueces River; Massive Tree Death Progressing

Pecan trees are heavily dependent on a constant source of water to produce full, good tasting nuts. Deprive the tree of water at various times of the year and you get small leaves, small nuts or empty, hollow shells. There are no shortcuts when it comes to producing the type of nuts people want to bite into at Thanksgiving; the tree must get water at regular intervals throughout the growing season.

In our orchard, we have three sources of water to get us through the growing season. We normally receive 23 inches of rain throughout the year; we are located next to the Nueces River and we have a decent aquifer, the Carrizo, underneath us. We use pumps to move the water from either the river or the aquifer to the rows of thirsty, growing trees. In a normal year, we watch the radar for rain, and when we see a dry spell forecasted, we turn on the river pumps to accomplish our irrigation. And in an emergency, well, we can always pump from the deep aquifer below us.

So what could go wrong with this nice, bucolic picture? In a word…..everything. South Texas is entering year five of the drought, perhaps the worst drought of all time. It didn’t rain but 6 inches in 2008, and so far this year we have received about 3 inches of rain. The Nueces River has not had any water flowing in it during the past five years; the riverbed is a dry trail of exposed stones and baked brown dirt. It has simply stopped raining in South Texas, and we are on the verge of turning into another Dust Bowl. According to Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon, the rainfall between October of 2010 and May of 2011 was the lowest since record keeping began in 1895.

When knowledgeable people discuss droughts in Texas, the reference period that is usually brought up is the seven year stretch in the mid 1950’s. The writer Elmer Kelton referred to it as ” The Time It Never Rained…”. Year after year, the spring rains never came, the grass never turned green, and slowly, most of the great cattle herds were sold off or they perished. Day after day, people looked up at a brilliant blue sky, and prayed that they would see a rain cloud. And for years on end, they didn’t; there were only more hot sunny days, and a parched earth under their feet. Towards the end of the 1950’s, the state considered building a huge canal system to bring water from the rainier, eastern part of the state to the arid western part. Of course, once the rains started to fall, the project was put on a shelf somewhere to collect dust.

During the 1950’s, the state of Texas had a population of 8 million people. Today, there are over 25 million people in Texas. A number of large reservoirs were built in the 60’s, while the memory of the drought was still fresh. But as time passed, fewer reservoirs were built, and most of the ones proposed over the last forty years were stopped by local groups that wanted no change to their environment. The result of this indifference as the drought worsens is predictable; the fight over every existing source of water is growing.

When it comes to entities that are habitually short of water, the City of San Antonio sits in a league all by itself. From a hydrological perspective, San Antonio sits atop a small sliver of the environmentally sensitive Edwards aquifer. It doesn’t take much pumping to threaten the flow at two historic springs, the San Marcos Springs and Barton Springs, and so the city simply cannot expand their production of ground water. There are limited supplies of surface water, and in fact the famed Riverwalk would run dry if the tail water wasn’t recirculated to the beginning of the watercourse as it winds its way through the downtown section.

Over the years, San Antonio has proposed a number of whacky solutions to help solve its water woes. One solution sought to pump water from the Colorado River in Matagorda County through a 170 mile pipeline to the city. This would have required the water to be lifted uphill, as the elevation difference between the river and the city was over 700 feet. The energy needed to pump this water, day in and day out, was enormous, and so this plan was quietly shelved. Well, maybe not so quietly, as the City has filed suit against the proposed supplier of water, the LCRA, leaving suitor and suitee locked in a legal embrace for years to come.

More recently, San Antonio looked west, and proposed another 70 mile pipeline project that would move water from the Uvalde area to the western part of San Antonio. Now, unfortunately, in almost any part of Texas, you can find some third generation ne’er do wells who will sell water rights, easement rights for electrical transmission lines or even the aged wood off the old barn for a little beer money. The fact that this will cause hardship to all the local farmers who are still actually getting up each day and trying to earn an honest living is of little matter to these types. The Texas legislature took a look at this, and said nothing doing. So for now, this project is at a dead end, but with a growing population, San Antonio will be forced to continue its search for a source of water that will allow the city to keep its numerous car washes and water amusement parks operating.

One group has been able to jump right into the water fray and establish itself as an entity to be reckoned with. We refer, of course, to the oil industry, from the giants, such as Exxon on down to all the smaller players. With the discovery of the Eagle Ford Shale play, the south Texas region is in the midst of a massive oil boom. But unlike booms of the past, this new drilling employs the hydraulic fracturing of the rock, and massive amounts of water are required to execute this technique. With so little water available, the oil companies have been drilling numerous wells into the Carrizo aquifer. They are pumping out so much water that the aquifer level has been dropping precipitously over the past two years. Of course, the region has numerous Underground Water Conservation Districts, to restrict the drilling of new wells and ensure that the existing water users, who are mainly agricultural, continue to have a source of water. Unfortunately, most of the ag users don’t have 50 person Legal departments back in Houston, and apparently, if you are an oil company, you are exempt from all local regulations anyway. We can ony hope that some of the well funded environmental defense groups will step into the void and investigate how the oil companies have been able to establish a stranglehold on the South Texas groundwater supply.

For now, the drought continues, and each hot, sunny, 110 degree day exhausts a little bit more of our water supply. Farmers and ranchers continue to take the brunt of the pain and damage caused by the lack of rain. Some farmers, their cotton and corn crop shriveled by having no moisture during the growing season, will call it quits, and other farmers will be told by their banker to put a ‘For Sale’ sign up on the place. Those who remain will question their own sanity. It has gotten to the point where the only course of action left is to “Pray For Rain”. So, to all who enjoy eating great tasting, organic pecans, we ask that you say a small prayer; hopefully Mother Nature will do the rest.

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Tropical Storm Hermine Misses Orchard…

Tropical Storm Hermine Misses Orchard...
Tropical Storm Hermine Misses Orchard

Tropical Storm Hermine moved through South Texas early on Tuesday morning, September 7th. We are very fortunate that the storm passed to the east of the orchard, and the heavy rain and winds did not materialize in either RGO orchard. The original projected path of the storm would have passed right over the Crystal City, Tx area, and the storm could have potentially reeked havoc on the pecan crop. At this time, the trees are already straining under the heavy pecan crop load, and additional weight from the rain, combined with high wind, would have broken many limbs. Once again, we are reminded that there are many risks involved in the production of food, and we certainly can’t control the path of a tropical storm.

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The 2010 Season Begins…

The 2010 Season Begins....
Catkin flowers

These perfect strands of flowers are called catkins.  These are the structures that produce the pollen on the pecan tree, and they are the first new growth to appear in the spring. Pecan trees are covered with catkins, and this allows the wind to carry pollen from tree to tree, fertilizing the female flowers. Pecan trees do not depend on bees or other insects to cross pollinate the flowers.

Of course, the recent collapse of so many bee colonies should be a concern to everyone. Our fellow tree nut growers who produce almonds are dependent on bees to carry pollen from tree to tree to produce viable nuts. The flower of the almond tree is self-incompatible, and so it requires a cross pollination that can only be accomplished by bees and other small flying insects.

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Rio Grande Organics Pecans Used In New Breakfast Cereal……

Rio Grande Organics Pecans Used In New Breakfast Cereal......
Nature’s Path Organic Flax Plus Maple Pecan Crunch Cereal

We are happy to update our customers that you can now enjoy our organic pecan pieces in a new breakfast cereal from Natures Path. The cereal, Flax Plus Maple Pecan Crunch, is a combination of toasted flax flakes and granola made with organic maple syrup and organic pecan pieces. It tastes as good as it sounds, and better still it is made with only certified organic ingredients! We hope you will try a box today, and if your local market doesn’t carry the product, please ask your grocery aisle manager to request and stock this wonderful, healthy new cereal.

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Pitching in for a community cleanup day.

Recently, Rio Grande Organics helped to organize a community cleanup day…and boy were we surprised by the number of people who turned out to pitch in!!

On February 23, 2008, over a hundred people gathered in the small town of Quemado, TX to pitch in and help cleanup the town. We filled up two garbage trucks with the litter that was picked up, and we re-painted the stands at the community baseball field. Many Rio Grande employees gave up their Saturday to participate!

As you can see in the second picture, one of the real highlights of the day was the number of children who showed up with big smiles and the energy to make it happen.

Picture three, left to right: Pete, our Quemado orchard manager, Luanne, Ky Anne, our Director of Community Relations, Bob, Tim, from Wilbur Ellis, our other main co-sponsor of the day, and Patti.

In the next image, the 50 acre field was planted with the Pawnee variety this past winter. We are planting the trees on a very dense spacing in this field, around 70 trees per acre. This will allow us to make better, more efficient use of water in the early life of these trees. When these trees are seven years old, we will use a special piece of equipment to dig up every other tree and move it to a permanent location.

Clearing work continued all throughout this past winter. Take a look at the last image and you can see how it progressed. We are clearing about 200 acres of land that will be replanted in pecan trees over the next few years. Pecan trees are native to both the Rio Grande River and the Nueces River. The southern United States and northern Mexico are the only places on the planet where pecan trees thrive. Demand for pecans in the Chinese market is doubling every year!

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As 2007 draws to a close…

Every so often, a season on the farm ends with the general agreement that “we won’t see a season like this past one perhaps ever again in our lives…..” Our Crystal City orchard received over fifty inches of rain during the growing season; on average we receive twenty one inches of rain during the entire twelve month year. Over a ninety day period beginning in late April, it rained or misted almost every single day.

For a non-farmer, rainy weather is little more than a nuisance during the rush hour commute, and possibly an inconvenient imposition on weekend plans. If, however, you are in the business of taking care of trees, then continuous rain is a quite larger demon: it is something that modifies your environment and prevents you from carrying out the tasks that make up your livelihood. During the greater part of the period when the young nuts were beginning to develop on the trees, the saturated wet ground prevented us from entering the fields with our tractors and sprayers. As a result, we were unable to provide a modicum of care to the pecan trees, and insects and disease had a free pass to inflict damage at will on our developing leaves and nuts.

Our harvest will begin in earnest next week, and the current state of the crop would discourage even the most wild eyed optimist. The predominate variety that we grow is the Wichita nut, and this years crop has been hard hit by scab, a bacterial disease that is spread by the constant splashing of raindrops on the nuts and leaves. Many of the nuts have scab related damage over more than fifty percent of the nut shuck, and most of these nuts will be inedible. We will have to separate out the damaged nuts before we send the crop to the shelling plant, and thus the total poundage of nuts that we produce this year will be greatly reduced.

We are not smart enough to know, or even to hazard a guess, as to whether or not this years abnormal rainfall is somehow related to global climate change, or if it is within the bounds of the expected possible hundred year rainfall. In the past twenty years, we have never had this much rain, so frequently and so intensely. A low pressure system sat over our part of south Texas for months on end, and it seemed to drag every bit of moisture in the Western Hemisphere to the storm clouds over our orchard.

Of course, there will be some longer term benefits for the farmers in our region: the local reservoir that supplies irrigation water to our area is full, our river is flowing strongly, and the aquifer that supplies our water wells has been completely recharged. These blessings will be greatly appreciated in the coming years, as the fight over water in south Texas continues between the suburbia/carwash builders and the people who produce food for the world’s growing population (And given the melt down in subprime mortgages, I think the suburbia builders may be in for a well deserved hiatus. Destroying the planet one subdivision at a time is hard work!)

All is not lost this year, as we have three other varieties of pecan that seem to have taken all the extra rain in stride. Our Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Desirable pecan trees all have full loads, and the nuts appear to have excellent quality. Although these trees make up less than half of our acreage, they do ensure that we will have some organic crop to sell to the many people who call us looking for organic pecan halves and pieces. As an insurance policy, they ‘paid off’ this year, but it comes at a cost: on average, a Wichita tree will produce twice as many nuts as any one of these varieties.

This winter, as the great rainy season of 2007 fades from our mind, we will be ramping up one of the most important projects that we have undertaken at Rio Grande Organics. Over the past few winters, we have been experimenting with various cover crops to try and determine suitable plantings for our orchard soil type. Cover crops are generally members of the clover family or the vetch family, and as they grow during the winter, the plants take nitrogen out of the air and convert it to a usable form in the soil. By using cover crops in the winter, we will no longer have to provide nitrogen fertilizer to our trees in the spring. All of the nitrogen that they need will be ‘fixed’ in the soil during the winter by the clover growing around the dormant tree.

Cover crops were always grown by farmers prior to WWII as a way of providing fertility to their spring crops of corn, cotton or tobacco. After the war, as inexpensive fertilizer from chemical plants became readily available, farmers stopped going to the trouble of planting and caring for a winter crop of yellow clover. It was much easier to simply spread cheap granulated fertilizer over the fields in early spring ahead of the seed planter. The knowledge of what cover crops worked in which soil types in south Texas has long been lost. Only with the recent price spike in fertilizer, which is mainly derived from natural gas, have farmers once again sought out suitable legumes to plant in their fields after harvest. Many of the plant varieties that we have tested over the past few years have actually been imported to this country from Australia, as their researchers have been leaders in the development of self-regenerating legumes for decades. We have had good results with four different plants, and this winter we will be planting various mixtures of these plants over a couple hundred acres of orchard. Our research will continue, as it is important to find a plant that will reseed itself year after year; a legume that has to be reseeded every year is not a great advantage over traditional fertilizer.

The search for a perfect cover crop will proceed this winter, and like so many other projects on a farm, the probability of reaching a conclusive solution is not great. Weather conditions and insect patterns change every year, and a promising clover this winter may fail to do much next year. It will only be after many successful winters that we will be able to say that we have a cover crop that works. But that, in a nutshell, is what farming is all about: an ongoing battle against nature and economic forces to profitably produce food that people want to eat. And as we carefully look over a trailer load of our nuts at the end of a harvest day, we will be thankful that we get to spend our time taking care of trees, and we will look forward to the challenges that next year brings.

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Pecan Entomology 101.

People often ask us what it takes to grow pecans organically. One of the first subjects that an organic pecan grower has to master is an understanding of the insects that attack the pecan tree and the young nuts.

First shown is a nut that has been growing on the pecan tree for about six weeks. The mass of material at the base of the nut is called “frass”; it is actually feces left behind by a pecan casebearer worm as it chewed its way into the young nut. The worm is now inside the nut, eating all the soft tissue. This nut would fall off the tree in a matter of weeks, as the nut dies once a worm eats into it.

With the frass cleared away, you can clearly see the nice round hole where the worm has bored into the nut (in the second picture). We try every year to limit the damage to about 2% of the total nuts that are set on the trees. Without some type of control strategy, a pecan grower can lose between 50% and 70% of the crop to the pecan casebearer worm.

Next we can see that having been disturbed, this worm is crawling back out of the nut. Normally, the worm would morph into the pupal stage, and eventually it would emerge as a next generation moth. The moths lay eggs on branches close to the small nut. Our entomologist, Robert Sandner, scouts the orchard every two days looking for casebearer eggs. When he finds enough eggs, we spray the orchard with bT, a bacteria that is harmless to people, but is deadly to the newly hatched worms.
Next, it looks like Mr Worm is headed for the border!!

All food producers, whether conventional or organic, face challenges controlling damaging insects. In our organic farming system, we use naturally ocurring substances, as opposed to synthetic chemicals, to control damaging insects. Our system of scouting for insects is very labor intensive, and the timing of our applications of bT is critical to achieve control.

In the fifth picture, you can see where the pecan casebearer worms have damaged three out of the four nuts. If this level of damage is extensive in the orchard, then there is very little chance of having a crop at the end of the season. Fortunately, in our four years of using organic farming methods, our orchards have built up large numbers of beneficial insects, such as lady beetles and green lacewings. These insects eat the casebearer eggs, and help to control the casebearer outbreak.
Finally shown, this young pecan tree is entering its second growing season in Quemado. We are seeing some of the young branches exceed three feet of growth in one season. We are experimenting with a number of techniques to maximize the yearly growth on these young pecan trees.

Currently, most pecan trees need seven to eight growing seasons before they start to produce a harvestable crop. We are hoping that land leveling, intensive water and organic fertilizer management, and weed control will reduce this waiting period. The long period between tree planting and full nut production is one factor that keeps world nut production low, and nut prices high. As people look to add healthier items to their daily diet, the demand for tree nuts will continue to grow!

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Winter work.

Many people are under the impression that winter is a time of rest for pecan farmers…..the reality is that it just may be our busiest time of the year!

It is now late March, and our pecan trees have not yet started to put out their new leaves, a process we call ‘bud break’. The pecan tree will start to flower and put out it’s pollen producing catkins very soon after bud break. The actual pecan nuts start to form in late April, and they will be growing and developing on the tree for close to six months.

The pecan trees in Crystal City have grown to a point where their size is interfering with the growth of surrounding trees. The Crystal City orchard sits on the bank of the Nueces River, and the soil is an optimal alluvial river soil. With proper watering, these trees are capable of living for 200 years, and attaining a height of 100 feet. We have had to designate about half of our trees as permanent trees, and the rest of the trees are ‘temporary’, although temporary may turn out to be 20 years. Our men have been hard at work extensively pruning back the temporary trees, and this will allow the permanent trees to continue to grow and produce lots of nuts. Note the heavy crop of clover growing under the trees; this will help put lots of nitrogen into the soil.

At Rio Grande Organics, we embrace our responsibility to future generations. This winter, we completed the planting of 40 acres of new pecan trees. We will be old men by the time that these trees are productive and full grown, but our children will be able to enjoy the nuts that are produced. Many people talk about making the world a better place – we are busy planting trees!

Our Quemado foreman, Alan Frerich, and our whole Quemado crew did a great job planting these new trees. These young trees will depend on water from the Rio Grande River for their survival. Agriculture in the US has been under relentless pressure from developers and environmentalists, who claim that our efforts are ‘wasting water’. We like to think that watering suburban lawns and building endless car-washes is a much greater misuse of our precious resources.

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The adrenaline begins to flow…

It’s harvest time in Crystal City, and Rio Grande Organics gears up to get the precious pecan crop harvested before any weather disasters strike.

Check out how our harvest season gets under way as our tree shakers move into action. This machine clamps ahold of the tree, and uses a powerful hydraulic engine to shake the tree vigorously. The ground under this tree is littered with pecans that have just been shaken off. Note the sweepers in front of and behind each wheel; these devices gently move the pecans to the side of the wheels as the vehicle moves through the orchard.

Next, the cluster in image two shows the progression of ripening pecan nuts. The nut on the right is at the stage where the green shuck is beinning to split open along the suture lines. The nut in the left center area shows the shuck fully open and drying to a brown coloration. In the last month prior to harvest, the nuts are susceptible to shuck decline disease and the shuckworm; both will keep the shuck from opening normally and will result in damaged nut meat.

In the next cluster, all of the shucks have opened normally, and the nuts will easily fall from the tree when shaking pressure is applied. The nuts can actually remain in this loosely held position for months.

In the fourth image, our senior organic consultant, Robert Sandner, stands in front of the first load of pecans harvested in 2006. Some of the pecans are still inside of their green shuck. A special machine in our cleaning plant will remove the shucks so that the nuts can dry out and be shelled. The 2006 harvest is very special to us, as it marks the end of our three year transitional period. The pecans harvested from our Quemado, TX orchard will be our first large ‘Certified Organic’ crop.

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Harvest diary.

Sunday, October 9th

The early October rains have kept us out of the orchard until today. We had hoped to begin harvesting on September 28th, but wet ground and harvesting equipment don’t mix very well. The tree shaker and the self propelled sweepers tend to sink in and create big ruts. To harvest pecans one needs hard, flat dry ground.

By noontime, the bright sun had burned off enough dew to signal that the 2005 harvest could finally begin. A whole years worth of work would be measured in the quality and quantity of pecans that could be gathered by our harvest crew. The first machine to work the row of nut laden trees is our tree shaker. This machine grabs the trunk and violently shakes the entire tree, disgorging a waterfall of ripe pecans. Once a full row of trees has been shaken, the two sweepers move in to gently brush the pecans into one big central row. This central row, or windrow, as we call it, is then inhaled by a group of machines that looks like a freight train. In fact, it is our big tractor pulling a pecan harvester, discharging a stream of nuts into a trailing nut wagon. Although the machinery of harvest has been idle for ten months, it only takes an hour or so for the crew to get into a gentle rhythm of tree shaking, sweeping and harvesting. By sundown, we have seven trailer loads of nuts, and we are ready to start our cleaning plant the following day. We all sleep well this night, tired from a long afternoon in the sun, but happy knowing that the harvest is under way.

Monday, October 10th

A gentle rain has fallen sometime during the night. The orchard has large puddles in areas, and it is clear that the field harvest will be on hold for a day or two. Today, we will focus on running the material that we harvested yesterday through our cleaning plant. This process separates the nuts from the dirt, rocks and shucks that get picked up by the harvester.

We will also spend the day going over all the equipment that we used yesterday in the field. All of the old equipment (and some of our tractors are twenty years old) held up pretty well. The lone exception is the brand new self propelled sweeper that we are using for the first time. Some of the bearings in the sweeper head broke off late yesterday. A call out to the California manufacturer reveals that our harvest conditions may be rougher than those normally encountered, and that we should probably upgrade the parts. We really can’t wait for parts to come from the coast, so our head mechanic Martine comes up with a work around and spends the afternoon rebuilding the head.

By days end, we have nine thousand pounds of clean pecans resting on the screen floor of a large drying trailer. A big fan gently blows air up through the floor, and over the next four days the moisture content of the nuts will drop to six percent, a good level at which to crack the nuts. But this is where our work ends; a large tractor trailer load of nuts will be sent to a shelling plant in Arkansas for the final processing.

Tuesday, October 11th

The orchard floor is still too wet to restart the harvesting process. Cloud cover hangs over the Quemado valley, and along with the lack of any discernable breeze, the conditions for ground drying are not very good. A low pressure system that is bringing early season snow to Colorado is wreaking havoc on our harvest. The weather system has been over us for two weeks now; it is simply not moving. The weather forecast continues to suggest a “chance of thunderstorms”.

Our harvest is at a standstill. We will spend the day making some changes to the equipment in our cleaning plant; a little work with the cutting torch here, a bit of spot welding over there. Cleaning pecans is really an exercise in material handling, and as the material moves through the plant, there is a tendency for it to find the path of least resistance. Sometimes that trail leads off of the conveyor belt and on to the floor. If we could be in the field harvesting today, then these changes would most likely be put off until the winter. But with time on our hands, making these repairs becomes the order of the day.

Wednesday, October 12th

A 6am walk through one of the pecan blocks indicates that the ground is dry enough to support the harvest machinery. By 7:30am, the tree shaker is lined up with the first tree, ready to start its violent work. Our field crew arrives and they ready themselves with their backpack blowers and rakes that are necessary to get all of the pecans into the row where they can be collected by the sweepers. But as we get ready to start, a new problem appears: the dew is rapidly building on the grass, and it will affect our ability to sweep the nuts into a concentrated row. There is nothing to do but wait until the dew has burned off. Normally, we don’t have much dew, but the recent rains have saturated the ground, and the low cloud cover creates ideal conditions for dew formation.

It’s 9am, the sun is shining, and we are ready to get started. The orchard quickly becomes a beehive of activity; machines and field workers are in motion everywhere. It takes about two hours to get some windrows of pecans formed so that the harvester can begin its work. Every thirty minutes, the harvester picks up 3000 pounds of nuts and green shuck material. At the beginning of the harvest, some of the pecans are ripe, and some of them are still enclosed in their green shuck. Our cleaning plant will remove the shucks from the nuts, allowing the nuts to dry out so that they can later be shelled.

We work through a few kinks, but everything is progressing well. By lunchtime, we have a shuttle bringing trailer loads of nuts to the plant on a regular basis. Fortunately, we are at a point where we can start to fine tune our process, looking for any slight change that will allow us to harvest nuts faster and more efficiently. Load after load of fresh pecans heads to the plant. We keep expecting something to break or stop running, but our worst fears are not realized. Our only miscalculation of the day is that we have shaken too many trees, and our harvester must run until almost 10pm to pick up all the nuts that are now on the ground.

Thursday, October 13th

An early morning check of the weather radar shows that there are some major storms about forty miles to the west of us over Mexico. Weather radar, which we access over the internet, is a great tool that helps us to plan our day’s events around the orchard. The radar today shows that some of the storms are pretty severe, dropping up to three inches of rain per hour over certain areas. New storm cells seem to be popping up all around us.

We head into the orchard with our equipment just before 9am. Given the dew formation, there is no rush to get into the harvest rhythm too quickly, as everyone senses that a storm is about to hit us at any minute. A few drops fall, but a scan of the sky shows rapidly moving clouds, and the hope is that the weather will break and we can start our nut gathering. There is one row of nuts that could not be picked up last night owing to the darkness, and now our harvester struggles to get the pecans up off the wet ground. Pretty quickly, our harvester is a mélange of nuts, mud and wet grass clippings.

The sporadic rain drops are now coming more frequently, and it is apparent that we are not going to escape the storm. As the intensity builds, a decision is made to send all the men and equipment back to headquarters. At first, we hold out some hope that the storm will quickly pass and that we will get back into the field today. But as the morning passes, and there is no break in the weather, it becomes clear that we are looking at an extended delay in the harvest.

What might have been a manageable situation rapidly deteriorates around lunchtime. A squall line, which is a series of very intense storm cells, moves over us and begins to drop up to two inches of rain per hour on us. By mid afternoon, our orchard looks like a lake and there is some serious flash flooding in the country around us. All told, this storm will dump six and half inches of rain on our land. It will be a week before we can resume harvesting. The only silver lining is that the storm did not produce hail or high winds, either of which would have knocked nuts out of the trees and into the fast flowing water. It is not the start to harvest season that we had hoped for, but eventually the orchard will dry out and we will resume our harvest. Once again, we are reminded that producing food is not an easy endeavor, the challenges are enormous and the risk of total loss is as close as the clouds.