True to Their Mission

Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery Committed to High Standards

Steve Whalley
Steve Whalley, manager of Pecan Grove's Brownwood farm, checks a 10-nut cluster in mid-September.

Some companies use catchy slogans to advertise their products. Not Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery. Instead, the Texas-based agribusiness promotes its top-quality pecans and pecan trees through a bold mission statement that captures its business model in a nutshell: Every person counts, every tree counts, and every pecan counts.

The company's strong commitment to high standards is paying off. Just five years old, Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery has more than 2,500 acres of pecan groves in production across Texas. In its third year, the business sold a whopping 3 million-plus pounds of in-shell pecans to American and overseas markets. On the nursery side, demand for its container pecan trees, which number in the tens of thousands, has exceeded availability.

From the start, founders Jose "Pepe" Guevara and Eduardo "Lalo" Medina have sought to grow their business in a way that also benefits the pecan industry. Their ingenuity and far-reaching vision in part stem from the years the two men, both raised and educated in Mexico, worked for the same global management consulting firm.

Initially, Pepe considered getting into pecans in 2009 as an investment. He approached Lalo, who had an interest in farming, and the men agreed to venture forward. For the next two years, they researched the industry, toured pecan farms and met with experts. Their networking led them to Hal Berdoll, who owned a renowned pecan operation near Bastrop, Texas. For six months, Berdoll mentored them every weekend on his farm.

From One Farm to Three

When Berdoll decided to sell his 500-acre orchard and nursery in 2011, Pepe and Lalo quickly put together an investor group. They also assembled a financing plan with assistance from agribusiness specialist Stacy Whitener. In 2012 Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery went into business, and almost three years later, Whitener joined the team as chief administrative officer.

"We intend to grow every year," Whitener says, "whether it's planting more orchards or buying them. We want to be a leader in the industry and an example to the community. We're especially proud of our pecan nursery. We're already sold out of our 2018 trees and half of our 2019 inventory, too."

In 2014, the company purchased 2,700 acres for future expansion near Cameron in Milam County and, a year later, an existing 5,200-acre pecan farm at Van Horn in Culberson County from Kyle and Nina Brookshier. Then, in mid-2017, the company bought a 1,250-acre pecan operation near Brownwood in Brown County from the Hodges family.

The business transactions took months and even years to happen.

"The pecan industry is small, so it takes a long time to establish working relationships with major growers," Whitener explains. "A lot of them are leery of newcomers. If they're selling, they want to make sure a new owner will take care of their farm, be pillars in the community, and be good stewards of the land. Lalo's worked for years to get to know people and establish his credibility and trust within the industry."

Trust in Their Lender

When it comes to lending, trust matters, too. For their financial needs, the company works with Casey Cook, a senior vice president with Capital Farm Credit in Amarillo.

"We have a phenomenal working relationship," Whitener says. "Casey has taken the time to understand how we operate. He's attended board meetings, visited our farms and asked questions. He works tirelessly to make sure that whatever we do on the debt side keeps us moving toward the future."

The understanding goes both ways.

"Some borrowers think someone has to be a winner and someone has to be a loser when it comes to negotiating and structuring a loan," Cook says. "But all of us believe that when we sit at the table to negotiate, we want both sides to win. That makes for a great relationship."

Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery also has been instrumental in doing good things for the pecan industry," Cook adds. "That's very important to them."

Pepe and Lalo are involved in the industry and share what they learn. Currently, Lalo is incoming president of the Texas Pecan Growers Association (TPGA). He's also an alternate representative to the American Pecan Council and a board member of the National Pecan Shellers Association. Van Horn farm manager Lane Brewster is a member of the Western Pecan Growers Association and the West Texas Pecan Association, while Bastrop farm and nursery manager Travis Britt belongs to the TPGA. Additionally, Whitener is a member of American Agri-Women.

Mission Statement: Every person counts, every tree counts, and every pecan counts.

Every person counts: Everyone has a responsibility to perform and continuously improve. Treat others and be treated with respect.

Every tree counts: Every tree will be a standard of excellence, innovation and stewardship. Each tree will reflect our commitment to the environment and our community.

Every pecan counts: We will produce and trade leading quality pecan products without waste.

Doing Things Better

Whitener says that the primary focus of all three farms is on how to do things better."How can we irrigate better? How can people work more efficiently?" she says. "We love change. We love technology. We're funding and testing new technologies in such areas as irrigation. That said, we open our doors and show people what we're doing on our farms. We're not secretive."

"We're also pursuing better genetics in our nursery and finding ways to get our trees to grow faster," she says. "We want to help the industry by providing quality trees, and we're spending the capital to achieve that."

Mother Nature, however, will always challenge farmers. For instance, the Bastrop farm has had problems with scab, and the Van Horn farm has been hit by hail.

"That's why it is important to be geographically diverse, which can mitigate weather risks," Whitener says. "We're probably one of the few pecan growers that has a six-month revenue stream because our harvests at the different farms overlap from September through the beginning of March, and our nursery sales start around February and end in April."

At day's end, it's the mission statement that matters most. "We're pecan growers, but we're also a company," Whitener says. "So we created a mission statement that we could focus on. Every employee knows the mission statement and why each tier is important. In turn, we take care of our 52 employees. We spend the most time and money on them. We're constantly looking at safety measures and how to make their jobs easier. We encourage them to come to us with their ideas on how to make the company better.

"Pecan Grove Farms and Nursery is going somewhere," she adds. "We see it. We can feel it. Everyone brings an energy to the company that's just amazing." - SSR