Hobby turns a bumper harvest for Warwick farmer
IN THE rich and fertile pastures of the Southern Downs, cereal crops and grazing cattle are the norm, but there are those in the region doing something a little different.
Farmer Peter Maughan is one of those.
Mr Maughan's shady forest of pecan trees might only afford him a small-scale operation but it proves diversification and innovation have merits.
Mr Maughan's 200 hectare property on Willowvale Rd, just north of Warwick, has been in the family for almost 100 years and before his retirement and during the time of his father before him, was filled with crops and cattle.
Today, much of the land is leased and the beehives and pecan crops have become a hobby with an income.
In the 1950s Mr Maughan Snr was an avid show entrant, displaying crops and grains at the annual Warwick Show.
It was on a trip to Clifton to collect a display he stumbled upon a farmer's pecan forest and started on a path his son Peter still travels today.
"He got to know about the pecan and that started him,” Mr Maughan said.
"He planted seven trees in the mid-1950s, and they thrive today, growing every year and producing a harvest every year.
"There are three varieties here; Mahan, Pabst and Nellis. The nuts each look different but the difference in taste is minimal.”
In the 1980s, at the passing of the his father, Mr Maughan took over the farm.
He is assisted with the yearly harvest by older sister Betty.
"We always had the pecans there, but with other business interests elsewhere on the farm, it was simply a hobby,” he said.
"I tended to just give them away.
"The trees were left to their own devices, until we noticed a problem with borers.”
This prompted some research and Mr Maughan discovered through some old books on the subject, that the best way to combat the problem was to maintain a healthy tree.
"It was a simple solution,” he said.
"Water and fertiliser when needed.
"As a result the trees started producing bigger yields and we started to sell the produce.”
A Brisbane beekeeper keeps dozens of hives on the Maughan property and he was Peter's main buyers.
"He sold his honey at markets in Brisbane, and supplemented that with the pecans.
"So we'd sell in bulk to him and that was about it.”
In recent years Mr Maughan has enlisted the help of local market stallholder Malcolm Nicholson to get his pecan crop to the local community.
"Malcolm has his art and plants and sells the nuts at the Uber Markets among others,” he said.
"It's been okay, we've just had a really good harvest - it's the best year we've ever had actually.
"Thanks to the great rains at the start of the year.”
Pecan nuts start to drop from the trees in March but most of the action happens in the middle of winter.
The trees are deciduous and lose their leaves in autumn before shoots and nuts start reappearing again in September.
"We're looking at a yield of around 200kgs,” Mr Maughan said.
"At about $10/kg, for very little outlay it's a nice bit of extra cash.
"Our main problem is the crows - I'm forever chasing them away.
"I find nuts on fence posts and occasionally you'll be sitting inside and here one rolling down the roof.”
Pecan trees are native to the southern US states and are closely related to hickory.
"In Alabama and Georgia, these trees thrive in areas that receive 40 inches of rain a year,” Mr Maughan said.
"So compared to that, my trees are growing in a dry region, but they've adapted well to conditions.
"The production of these trees is cyclic, so after a large harvest like this year's, it's likely they'll have a bad year next year.
”They can't keep up that level of production, we'll be flat getting 100kgs next year.”