What began as a niche sideline business for Johnson’s Metal Recycling at 2000 Sturgis Rd. in White Hall has become a major operation. Three years ago, the business decided to expand their services outside of metal scrapping and called on Wayne Craig, who has 14 years of experience in harvesting and wholesaling pecans, to head their cracking and shelling department for Johnson’s Pecan Farms.
What started off as a small operation has now grown into a business that has the ability to yield a substantial profit not only for Johnson’s Metal Recycling but also for patrons who want to sell their pecans.
“The metal scrapping business falls off in the winter, so they wanted to get into something else … after talking to three or four other scrapping businesses in other states, they all said the same thing: get into the pecan business,” Craig said.
The average pecan tree produces 450 of pecans annually. Craig said they buy at least 18,000 pounds of pecans a day at .45 cents a pound — and that’s just from the number of people who come in with four-to-five-pound bags of pecans.
“We close at four o’clock, and there’s usually two-and-half blocks of cars down the road waiting to come in. We don’t close the gate until the last person is in, so sometimes we’re here until 5:30 weighing in pecans,” Craig said.
He said there are two sectors of their pecan department. One part happens in the pecan groves, where JMC harvests the 449 pecan trees on the company’s pecan grove located on U.S. 425. After they have harvested their own groves, they harvest for other people.
The pecans that are harvested are sold to Indianola Pecan House in Indianola, Mississippi. The pecans are sold based on the variety, and there are 500 different varieties of pecans. They vary in shape, size, color, texture and taste. The second sector of the department is the cracking and shelling service that’s offered to patrons. A 100-pound bag of pecans can be cracked and shelled within minutes.
“The amazing thing is nothing is wasted. Even the shells are ground into dust and sold to a guy in Little Rock who turns the dust into bricks and sold to be used for barbecuing,” Craig said.
He said the key to their pecan business growing and being profitable for everyone involved is educating people on how to care for their pecan trees. R.D. Johnson, son of owner Beaver Johnson, attended pecan school in 2016 at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, with Craig, where they gained further knowledge on how to get the most from a pecan grove.
Johnson is now bringing this knowledge to local listeners on 99.3 FM every Monday morning by giving different tips to listeners on how to care for pecan trees they have in their yard.
“The better quality you get, the better it is for us to buy because we want to buy the best, and we’re buying now approximately 15,000 to 18,000 pounds a day,” Craig said.
“This year the quantity for pecans was great, but the quality was poor … last year the quality was top notch, but the quantity was poor.”
Craig said the poor pecan quality is due to the trees not getting the amount of water they need at the right time. He said a pecan tree requires about 34,000 gallons of water a year, and while they can water their pecan trees with a plane, someone with a one or two pecans trees at their home can’t, so it is important that people are educated on the things they can do to get the most out of their pecan trees — especially if they want to sell the pecans.
Craig said they have prepared the company’s pecan grove for next year by installing an irrigation system that will ensure the trees get the necessary amount of water. As a result, they predict that next year they will have a yield of three-quarters of a million pounds from the company’s pecan grove of 449 trees.
For Pine Bluff resident Sammy Jackson, taking his pecans to be shelled at Johnson’s has become an annual tradition. He says he makes “three or four” pecan pies each Christmas for loved ones.
“I sell the rest,” he said.