Choosing a Pecan Shelling Facility
It seems that I always have a bitter-sweet relationship with my pecan shellers. Whether you market your entire crop directly to the consumer as we do, or just want to have a few of your pecans shelled for your personal use, the pecan sheller is an important part of your operation...and your success. While I've toned down on my generally negative opinion towards custom shellers, I still have issues with doing business with them.
It must be written in the imaginary 'Pecan Sheller's Handbook' that when you bring your pecans in for processing, they must sit in a dark corner for two, three, or four weeks before being processed. I've taken a load into the sheller and there not be one single pecan in the whole place...and it's still two weeks before I get my shelled pecans back. The fact that it may be two weeks before Thanksgiving and I have a hundred or so eager customers ready to pounce on my new crop of pecans simply does not matter to them. They're not shelling my pecans until they get good and ready. The folks at the shelling facility would tell you that new crop pecans are harder to shell, and if they sit for awhile they shell better. They might tell you the new crop of pecans you bring in are green...which means they're FRESH. What they are really saying is that their sixty thousand dollars worth of pecan equipment can't shell a fresh pecan. I can't make those customers up in Oregon understand that they will have to have their Thanksgiving pecan pie for New Years.
Another issue I have with pecan shellers is the quality of their work. I visited a pecan sheller around the first of October one year, about a month before my crop was due to come off. I walked into his plant and saw at least two dozen or so metal garbage cans with plastic bag liners, all filled to the brim with the prettiest pecan halves I have ever seen. I asked him about his shell-out ratio and what percentage would be halves compared to pieces. He told me he had brand new equipment and was sure he could turn out 80% halves. The man must have been dyslexic, because when I got my first (and last) batch back from him six weeks later, about 80% were pecan 'crumbs' and the other 20% were pecan halves, and they looked like they had been in a train wreck. Worse than that, the shell-out ratio was only 48%. I know my pecans, I know how to grow them, and I know they will shell out at 55-58% nutmeat.
Which brings me to another issue I feel strongly about. It seems that pecan shellers are obsessed with being pecan sellers. That throws up a big red flag for me. That same sheller that botched up my pecans told me that at the beginning of harvest season he was taking in three thousand pounds of pecans per day. I recently read about a custom pecan shelling facility in Oklahoma that took in a quarter million pounds of pecans their first season. Now these folks are charging us between sixty cents to a dollar a pound to shell our pecans. Do the math...that's some big money. Why in blazes do they feel the need to sell pecans...and when do they find the time? Look back up there where I said my shell-out ratio should have been 58% but was only 48%...and I got very few halves back. Now folks, I have had to buy pecans from individuals from time to time to fulfill my customers' requests, and I know first hand there is not enough profit in it to even mess with it, I only do it to keep my customers happy. So...you read between the lines.
You can pick and choose
I had a business that wanted to purchase one hundred pounds of shelled pecans and give them to their customers for Christmas. I didn't have a sufficient supply on hand, so I ran down to the local sheller with a load. It was early in the season and I know for a fact that he had NO pecans waiting. I went back a few days later and asked about my pecans and he looked at me smugly and said, 'They're green...I don't want to mess with them.' I went straight back to the orchard, loaded up five hundred pounds and drove forty miles to the next sheller. He did want to mess with them.
You do have a choice. Yes, you might have to drive a ways to find a sheller who really wants to do business with you. And you can always use this threat with your local sheller. Pay them a visit prior to harvest and ask questions. What is your typical shell-out ratio? What percentage is halves? How long will I have to wait? Do you re-run the pecans through an Aspirator? What type of equipment do you have? Do you separate the halves and pieces? Will there be any shell left in the finished product? 'I see that you also sell pecans. Where do you get your pecans to sell?' Will I get ALL of my pecans back? Will I even get MY pecans back, or some tiny hard shell natives that you skimmed from someone? Let them know you know what your pecans' shell out ratio is. If you sell directly to consumers, let them know. By all means, let them know that you 'ain't no dummy' and you don't HAVE to give them your business.
The Flip Side
I've been harsh with my above comments concerning custom pecan shellers, though I don't think completely without merit.. Not all shellers operate this way. There are some hard working, honest, folks out there trying to make a living shelling nuts. There are some pet peeves that they have about us also. Let's face it, when you bring in ten or twenty pounds of pecans to shell, it's really not worth their time and trouble. They have to re-adjust their shelling equipment for the size and thickness of your pecan, and do whatever they must to get a decent shell-out for you. Take fifty pounds in...make it worth their effort. Remember, I'm the guy who carried five hundred pounds up to the sheller and is waiting in line while they tinker with the equipment to shell your ten pounds...and I'm the guy who comes nearer paying the bills at the shelling facility. If you have two or three pecan trees 'out back' that you didn't water, fertilize, and zinc all summer...don't expect your shell-out ratio to be more than 30% or so. If that's the best you can do, it's really not worth your money to have them shelled. Take care of your trees! And folks, some of the smallest pecans I've ever seen were at the shelling facility...so small that I wasn't even sure they were
pecans. Can you imagine how difficult it is trying to get nutmeat out of those tiny nuts?
Dear Mr. Custom Sheller
Inevitably there will be some of you stumble across this page. I'm sure all those tacky things I said above are about your competitor, at least I hope so. Mr. Sheller, I want you to know that I need you, that thousands of pecan growers need you...and we do appreciate your being there for us. This is a golden opportunity for you to let folks know you are in business and want to do business with pecan producers. We invite you to contact us about promoting your business to thousands of people who stop by our website in search of pecan information. They really do want to know that you are out there. We are just the place to advertise your business!