Pecans have been a very profitable crop to grow and sell for most. Pecan prices have increased dramatically over the past decade, bringing many new participants to the market. State pecan grower organizations have seen a spike in new growers attending meetings with hopes of learning the business. Over the past decade, most pecan farmers have seen significant returns on their investment. But for some pecan growers there has been a much dimmer story to tell.
Meet Carlos. Carlos planted his first pecan tree when his oldest son was born in 2003. “I heard from friends that people were making a lot [of money] with pecans, so I decided plant.” Carlos started with 43 acres in 2003 and has since increased his acreage to encompass around 131 acres. “I planted more as I could afford it” he says. Carlos’s first significant harvest came in 2010 when he had to borrow his neighbors’ harvester to gather the nuts. “We had a harvest before, but this was the first time we used equipment and everything.” After having what he calls his “first real harvest” Carlos says he was hooked. “Until then I never made anything off them [pecans]”. That is when Carlos says he became more interested in the selling and marketing of his nuts. The next year Carlos joined a pecan co-op operating in Texas. “They said they had been around since the 70’s”. “I was excited to join, I thought, now I’ll have access to market information.” But Carlos’s experience was far from what he imagined. He says the first year he sent his pecan crop to the co-op to be marketed and sold. “They said they only keep enough money to operate, and the rest goes to us [members].” Carlos sent his pecans to the co-op and received back a small deposit along with a report showing what he put into the co-op. A few months went by and no word, and then a few more. Eventually, Carlos decided to call to find out about the status of his pecans. “I thought pecans were selling like crazy, but they said that there was too many.” Carlos said that he didn’t think much of it in the beginning. Eventually Carlos was harvesting next year’s crop and still had only received a “deposit” for the prior year’s pecan harvest. Carlos says that he decided not to put any more pecans into the co-op until he received payment for the first pecans he put into the Texas based pecan co-op. “I harvested and sold the next crop without the co-op.” Carlos says that eventually he received a small payment for his pecans and a letter that stated he would soon be receiving the rest of the money. “This was more than a year later.” Carlos says that despite many phone calls and attempts to collect his money, that he has never received anything else. “It’s like they just forgot about it”. Carlos says that after 2 years of excuses he decided to take action. That’s when he eventually found himself talking with the local FBI field office in Texas. “There are many other growers [victimized] but I have only found a couple” Carlos says that the co-op has done the same thing to 5 other growers that he knows of, and between those five growers he says that they have more than 1 million pounds of pecans in the co-op waiting for payment. “There is probably more but they don’t let us talk to each other.” Carlos says he has asked for other growers contact information but the co-op does not want the members to know each other. “They claim to have 150 members, but I don’t know.” Carlos says that the investigation is still on going and that he is trying to find other pecan growers involved. “I am not giving up” he says, “they should have to pay us for our crop”.