Grosse Tete resident Rev. Frank Collins III is loyal to his backyard duo of pecan trees he planted as a young boy.
The trees have become a source of business for his roadside store where he sells vegetables, pork skins and the pecans that he and his wife, Sandy, pick to make his creamy, nutty pecan candy.
“It’s important having my trees near my business,” he said. “In stores, pecans can run me about $10 a pound, but it doesn’t cost me anything except time to pick and crack my own.”
Though the hand-picked nuts fetch an average of about 60 cents a pound this season, Collins said he has no intention of selling his harvest. Hand-picked pecans became the hottest ticket in town in 2010 when businesses started buying the nuts from hand-pickers for record-breaking prices from $1.15 to $1.50 per pound.
Phillip Cilano, an employee of Farmer’s Feed Mill in New Roads and Maringouin, said he remembers the pecan frenzy.
H.J. Bergeron’s Pecan Shelling businesses in New Roads typically bought about 500,000 pounds of pecans in an average year, but in 2010, the business bought more than 1.6 million pounds. Pecan-buying prices are falling far below 2010 levels and “they’re (pickers) not fighting for them like they used to,” Cilano said, but tried-and-true pecan pickers are still selling their wares.
Retired couple Raymon and Darlene Pryer, of Maringouin, are faithful pickers.
“We’ve been picking for years,” Darlene said. They pick about 400 pounds each year from trees in their backyard, along the roadside, in the woods or near their church. They sell most of the pecans and keep some for pecan candy.
“The money helps us catch up on bills, especially when heating bills get higher, and it helps with the holiday spending,” Darlene said.
Darlene remembered rushing to find an unclaimed tree during the pecan rush in 2010.
“We had to race to the tree. We’d pack a lunch and get there at 6 a.m. and stay until 5 p.m.,” she said. She remembered selling over 800 pounds of pecans that year.
She said that while her husband is physically disabled, he can still fill six five-gallon buckets a week.
Pecan production adds about $12 million to the state’s economy each year, according to the LSU Agricultural Center.
Cilano said more customers are also visiting the store to get pecans cracked and shelled at 55 cents per pound.
Collins said he has no plans of quitting. “My trees are still loaded,” he said. “I’m not going to climb the tree myself to get the pecans down, but I might get somebody else to climb it.”
If that fails, “the wind or a good rain will knock them down or I can throw a big stick at the tree,” Collins quipped.
Chante Dionne Warren can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org