Nuts about pecans

Considered a foraged delicacy in the 19th century, pecans have grown in both popularity and commercially in the intervening years.

Baking Business sat down with Kootingal Pecan Company owner Mark Banning-Taylor to discuss how he came to be the fourth steward of a 30-year-old pecan orchard near Tamworth.

Can you tell us a bit about Kootingal Pecan Company?

Kootingal Pecan Company is a family-owned business who are now stewards of a 30-year-old organically certified pecan orchard just outside Tamworth. We purchased the orchard in April 2022, the first harvest was imminent – as was the need to turn around the health of an orchard that had suffered for almost a decade since the original steward and planter sold the property.

We are the fourth  stewards of this orchard dominated by the Texan pecan nut species, Witchita. This pecan likes it hot and dry with a good groundwater table. The property provides perfect growing conditions for this variety of pecan.  Pecan trees live beyond 250 years and this orchard is just over 30 years old.

We are one of about 100 pecan growers in Australia who specialise in this nut.

Kootingal Pecan Co processes with specialist machinery imported from the US for all its pecans and those of other third party growers. Using the latest crackers and colour sorters to process our pecans into vacuum sealed 3kg packs but also those of other growers.

With capacity to handle some 150 tonnes a year, the pecans – whether they’re Kootingal Pecans or others – are cracked and packed, typically within just a few hours of being shelled. Kootingal pecan then transforms the raw pecans into pecan butters, dry-roasted pecan pieces and halves; and activated pecan pieces and halves.

Thanks to the quality of the pecan nut grown, and the organic certification, in just six months Kootingal Pecans has grown from zero customers to making it onto the tables of the new W Hotel in Sydney, supplying specialist producers serving the Byron Bay region and beyond, as well as selling at Sydney’s Carriageworks Farmers Market.

Mark Banning-Taylor

What goes into the growing, harvesting and processing of pecans?

As Kootingal rolled into its third harvest in 2023, the season seems to be short. There are only some 200 days from bud break to harvest in a typical season.

Prior to bud break, nutrition such as molasses and liquid seaweed is applied to keep the microbiological activity as high as possible. The cover crop is sown to assist activity below ground and to manage the tree’s stress during the growing season. Technology plays a major part in orchard management of the trees as stress, ground water, photosynthesis, humidity, and ground temperature are all monitored in real time. This is a daily management activity, and adjustments are then made to maximise tree health.

Kootingal takes monthly leaf tests to check on trace element levels in the trees across each block. Nut development and fill occurs quickly in the new year. Watering in this period is crucial for so many aspects of pecan development, and then there’s harvest, which is a  4-6 week period as autumn arrives.

Harvesting is a mechanical process, with tree shakers and nut harvesters gathering the pecans.

The pecans are sized in the shed and then left in the barn to slowly air dry for a period to allow a continuation of natural processes. Patience is a premium as the low humidity, and steady warm winter breeze draws the moisture out of the pecans.

Once we are achieving consistent moisture test results we then process the pecans quickly, from crate to vacuum sealed bag and refrigeration. Visual quality, shape and taste are important for us to give to the consumer or purchaser to enable them to get the maximum result from using our pecans.

Kootingal pecans remain onsite until they are dispatched as part of orders for raw pecan, dry roasted or pecan butters. We do not blend our pecans with other growers. All our trees are individually named and numbered. Authenticity and traceability are critical for us in delivering Kootingal pecans to the end user or consumer.

Once the harvest finishes and is in the barn, we have a gap typically before we crack, and then we move to pruning about 20 per cent of the trees in the orchard. This stimulates fresh growth, brings the trees back to a manageable height, lifts yields in those areas pruned for several years.

Kootingal pecan has a wood chipper to chip  all the branches from the pruning into mulch. This section of the orchard is typically closed for 18 months letting microbiological activity break back down the wood chip into organic material. Then as we ship the harvest out to our customers, we repeat the cycle.

The Kootingal Pecan Company farm

Can you share a bit about the farm with us? How big is it? Why was the location chosen?

Kootingal Pecan orchard consists of some 1500 trees on about 9 hectares of river flats. The decision to plant pecans in the late 1990s came from reading a magazine article and the realisation that the farm may be suitable for growing pecans.
The trees do well on these river flats. Growth is vigorous and a good yield has historically been achieved.

How large does a typical harvest look? Do you know roughly how many pecans that equates to?

A typical harvest is between 25-35 tonnes of pecans in shell. It takes about six weeks to complete the harvest. We never get a straight run with the weather, and when it rains it is about a three-day wait before the machines can return to the orchard floor.

Have you noticed pecans experiencing growing popularity in Australia over the years? Or have they long been a staple? What other evolution shave you noticed they’ve undergone?

Great question! The family purchased the farm in April 2022, but we had never farmed pecans before so this is a great learning experience with no pre-conceptions on how to do things.

There is a general growth in consumer demand for nuts as consumers switch from meat-based to vegetable-based proteins. This change – or reversal in diet – means the outlook for pecans and other nuts is healthy.

Pecans are just part of the diversity of the nuts produced in Australia and are part of a mixed diet in flavours and tastes.


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