CUERO — An assembly line of volunteers worked busily at a set of folding tables in Cuero’s Friar Ag Center on Tuesday morning, painstakingly shelling more than two dozen varieties of pecans to be weighed and inspected.
This year’s 59th annual DeWitt County Pecan Show drew growers from the surrounding area, including DeWitt, Victoria and Lavaca counties, who withstood a damp year to produce a spectacular array of pecans ranging in size from a little bigger than an olive to nearly the size of an oblong golf ball.
Among them was Kernell Moritz, who tends to an orchard along the Guadalupe River bottom near Nursery on property once owned by his grandmother. Moritz has participated in local pecan shows for more than three decades.
“To grow a good pecan, you need 3 to 4 feet of good topsoil,” he said. “If you get down in the deep, rich, fertile shallows of the Guadalupe River, the water table is shallow, the soil is rich, so you don’t have to do as much watering and fertilizing — it’s there for you, naturally.”
Moritz brought several different varieties to this year’s show, including Jackson, Forkert and Shawnee, which he described as a “beautifully meated pecan with a nice high shell-out,” referring to the weight percentage retained after the shell of the pecan is removed.
“I’ll tell you this, it’s a lot of work,” Moritz said. “They don’t come just packaged as the gift of God. You have to do good orchard management.”
The Guadalupe River bottom from Seguin to Victoria is one of the state’s top pecan-producing regions, Moritz said.
However, pecan growers faced difficult conditions this year due to the heavy rains and relentless moisture, which required a “rigid fungal control program,” said Anthony Netardus, DeWitt County extension agent.
That contributed to the below-average turnout at this year’s pecan show, which might draw 70 to 80 entries in a typical year, Netardus said. Still, there were a wide range of both native and “produced,” or grafted, varieties represented.
“The pecans that made it this far into the year that we had, with so much moisture from May all the way until harvest, they were either under some type of spray program or they were very tolerant or resistant,” he said.
Another pecan grower, Nola Bohuslav, who manages an orchard with her husband in Lavaca County, carefully chipped away at the shells of each pecan with a silver, pointy-tipped instrument known as a pecan pick. The device allowed Bohuslav and the other volunteers to chip away at shells and reveal the pristine “meat” beneath — like Michelangelo chiseling away at a block of marble to allow a sculpture to emerge.
“Some of these are really hard-shell,” she said. “I want to make them look as perfect as possible.”
After all the pecans were weighed with their shells off, shelled and then weighed again, Netardus printed out a slip of paper with two data points for each entry: the average number of nuts per pound, and the percent kernel, meaning the percentage of weight retained with the shell removed. Those numbers are compared to state averages compiled over decades of shows held across Texas.
“This truly lets people know how their pecans stack up,” he said.
The top entries from this year’s pecan show will advance to the regional show at Texas A&M in January, and from there onto the state competition next summer.
Both Moritz and his father claimed the top prize at the state competition in years past, and Netardus said entries from the DeWitt County show tend to perform well.
“That was the crowning achievement for us,” Moritz said. “That’s as good as it gets.”