Baking Business gets the lowdown on pecan production from Steve Mackinlay from Stahmann Farms.
Tell us a bit about Stahmann Farms:
Stahmann Farms’ flagship pecan farm, Trawalla, was planted in the late 1960s. Fifty years on, Stahmann Farms is now a fully vertically integrated agribusiness.
We have broadened our farming platform to include macadamias and now have tree nut orchards across Queensland and New South Wales with new developments forever on the horizon. Our processing facility is based in Toowoomba, Queensland and manufactures retail packed nut products for major retailers using pecans, macadamias, walnuts, almonds and pine nuts. Our products are sold domestically in major retailers, but also make their way internationally to a large variety of retailers.
Stahmann Farms endeavours to enrich people’s lives by growing, processing, packaging and promoting the highest quality tree nuts whilst positively impacting our environments.
How has the drought affected your operation?
Stahmann Farms have been growing pecans in Australia for over 50 years. Trawalla, our pecan farm near Moree in North Western NSW, rests on the banks of the beautiful Gwydir River, which has generally over the years delivered water to our orchard. Remembering Trawalla is the largest pecan farm in the southern hemisphere (3000 acres), quite a lot of water is required. The longevity of this drought has caused abnormal stress during the fruiting season, delivering nut-in-shell with more brittle kernel qualities. This in turn complicates the cracking process at our manufacturing facility. The long view of a drought is often misrepresented—the damage to trees, the soil, the flora and fauna—these fundamental eco systems that deliver life are essential to our orchard’s very existence. Astute farm management sets our operation apart; Stahmann Farms has relied upon empiric knowledge and application awareness through these difficult times.
What are some of the challenges of pecan production and how do you overcome these?
Agriculture will always deliver challenges and Mother Nature will often move from friend to foe quickly. Pecans are hardy trees, (from the Hickory family), they are thirsty and require accurate water delivery. Our orchards are fertigrated allowing precise nutrient delivery across vast areas. Pruning in the post-harvest months allow the canopy to develop for maximum sunlight generating increased photosynthesis. Stahmann Farms is a vertically integrated business, (farm to plate) our challenges not only lie in the farming of the pecan, they also exist in the everyday manufacturing of the kernel extraction (cracking), pasteurisation, value adding (dry roasting and salting) to sustainable packaging systems for clients domestically in Australia and around the world. Our values of quality and food safety are reflected in the many national and international accreditations required to manufacture food product for consumption both within Australia and globally. Rising to meet this challenge requires a trained and committed work force from Farm to Factory. Stahmann’s has built its legacy on team work, with family values at our core. We currently have two and three generations of the same families, applying their skills within our manufacturing operation.
What make pecans a versatile and popular nut?
The versatility of the pecan can be accounted to its sweet meaty kernel, which delivers a clean nutty taste. Importantly, the pecan has wonderful health attributes, being a rich source of unsaturated fatty acids, intrinsic to cardiovascular disease prevention (verified medical evidence). Value adding to a pecan kernel, by lightly salting/roasting, enrobing with chocolate, candied or spiced, are all favoured methods of enhancing the market appeal of the pecan. Clearly, the baking utility of the pecan are steeped in history, the ubiquitous pecan pie and pecan muffins as staple baked classics. Recently, the Snickers pecan hit the US snack market, outselling the conventional Snickers and selling out within a short time of its release.
What are some of the biggest commercial markets for pecans ?
Stahmann Farms within Australia supplies into the domestic market, our Riverside All Australian pecans are available in Coles and Woolworths, we also supply the private label brands (retailer owned) to the major retailers. Domestic consumption continues to trend positively, we have seen the health sector take up due to the aforementioned health qualities of the pecan. Bulk supply domestically and internationally has grown due to its overall utility and its delivered versatility within foodservice and baking channels. Other trending commercial variations, following a huge disruption within the dairy market, is the consumer driven desire for nut milk variations. Pecans, with their high “good oil” content, are being developed into a more viscous option for nut milks, adding greater creaminess than the almond.
How can bakers best utilise pecans in their products?
Our research has provided clear data that the pecan has moved from a fringe nut for consumers within Australia to a proactive addition to ingredient purchase. The pecan, while historically associated with baking, pies, slices, muffins and cookies, has moved to more savoury inclusions. Pecan-crusted sausage rolls, vegetarian and vegan fillings for pies with pecan pieces are some examples from the US.
What is the best time to buy pecans from the grower?
All year round! Our processing and manufacturing systems deliver exceptional quality, cold storage playing an essential part in maintaining the quality of the pecan kernel, with cooler temperatures stabilising the nut-in-shell (Mother Nature’s natural protection) until cracking and processing are desired.
There has been a boom in pecans in recent months. Why is this?
Yes, the pecan has grown in stature amongst the big three in tree nuts, almonds, walnuts and cashews. The identifying reasons are clear, consumers are far more “food aware”, health conscious and food as a subject is a conscious part of everyday life. Healthy snacking, via healthy marketing campaigns such as ‘Nuts for Life’ highlight the added value of nuts as an alternative to less healthy, quick snack options.
Diversity of flavours and applications with the help of a proven track record (the pecan is the favourite nut of the US consumer) within food channels has elevated the pecan within the Australian foodie’s consciousness.
What ’s the best way to enjoy pecans, in your opinion?
As a daily pecan muncher, I enjoy them raw, however I will often slightly roast the pecan in the oven (6 minutes at 200C) then salt them liberally with good quality flaked salt. Pecan tart with drizzled cream and a quenelle of vanilla ice cream clearly hits the spot. Carrot cake with pecans instead of walnuts offers a variation, with far more depth of flavour, and the texture is (some say) far superior.
How can Australian bakers, pastry chefs and chocolatiers source pecans from you direct?
We have a cost effective (efficient) and stable distribution network currently in place, and I invite you to access our quality nuts through this network. You get no closer to the farmer by bypassing this network. If you contact Scalzo Food Industries or MWT Foods, both of whom are headquartered in Melbourne but also have additional offices in other state capitals, you will be given accurate price and availability details on our raw nut kernels.