In short: 

A Riverland farmer has found success farming pecans with the trees able to better survive frosts that destroy other crops in the region.

A gelato company in Adelaide purchases 80 per cent of his pecans to make their most popular flavour.

What’s next?

The Australian Pecan Association says the industry is small, but promising, with the nuts able to fetch up to $80 a kilo and the trees able to keep producing pecans for more than 100 years.

Australia’s warm inland regions have become powerhouses of almond production but another nut has shown promise as a lucrative and long-lasting crop — pecans.

Domestic pecan production was valued at $13 million last year, with the majority of nuts grown in northern New South Wales and south-east Queensland, according to Hort Innovation. 

But in South Australia’s Riverland, one grower has been investing in the trees that can produce nuts for more than a century.

About 16 years ago, a devastating frost event prompted Dave Otto de Grancy to rip out his citrus trees and vineyards and replace them with pecan trees.

“While the oranges and grapes were frosted out, this big beautiful 60-year-old pecan tree on the property was looking lovely,” he said. 

“So that gave us the idea to go ahead with pecans … because we were looking for something that would stand the test of the weather.” 

Mr Otto de Grancy is one of just a handful of pecan growers in South Australia.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

The SA representative for the Australian Pecan Association said isolation from the rest of the industry and the crop’s water demands made it a challenge to get started.

But Mr Otto de Grancy was able to establish an orchard thanks to a wealth of information on YouTube coupled with his wife Stacey’s family roots in the United States.

“Pecan trees are native to the banks of the Mississippi in the United States,” he said. 

“We did our research over there, [where we had] family who were pecan growers, and saw some information on varieties that grow in Arizona, Oklahoma, and Texas.”

Mr Otto de Grancy sorts, dries, and pre-cracks the pecans on site before sending them off for shelling.(Supplied: Dave Otto de Grancy)

Mr Otto de Grancy said they purchased their first 50 trees through a commercial nursery, but since setting up their own nursery they can do their own grafting.

“It was quite hard at the start,” he said.

“Our climate and water limitations are incredibly different to what they’ve got over there, but we thought we’d have a crack and it’s been quite successful.”

Pecans a winning flavour

After waiting almost a decade for the trees to begin producing nuts, Mr Otto de Grancy has found plenty of demand for his organic pecans.

Mr Otto de Grancy expects to harvest about 6 to 9 tonnes of pecans this year.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

“I’ve got a fairly secure contract with a gelato company in Adelaide, who buy about 80 per cent of our pecans and use it in a maple syrup gelato,” he said. 

“I’m also looking at producing pecan nut butter and pecan oil.”

Adriano Macri, the owner and founder of Bottega Gelateria said he sought Mr Otto de Grancy’s pecans because he wanted to use local produce.

“I promote a slow food philosophy, which means supporting local farmers where possible,” he said.

Mr Macri said when he attended Gelato University in Italy he was frustrated by the widespread use of artificial preservatives and synthetic ingredients. 

“The industry is dominated by these ingredients, which have been manufactured,” he said.

“It became a burning desire to go back in time and tap into the lost art of natural gelato.” 

The award-winning salted pecan and maple gelato is also Mr Macri’s most popular flavour.

“We roast the nuts in-house, and then we grind them into a butter or nut paste, which we add to the milk cream base,” he said.

Nut-based gelato products such as pistachio already exist with pecans further exploring the market.(Supplied: Adriano Macri)

Growing the supply

Australian-grown pecans have a small export market with most nuts consumed by the domestic market, and about 15 per cent of shoppers purchasing the nut in the past year. 

Australian Pecan Association president Scott Clark got into growing the nut at his farm in Lismore on the New South Wales Mid North Coast after seeing his neighbours do it.

 He said commercial orchards were established in the 1970s with about 3,000 tonnes produced in an average year. 

“They’re a very hardy crop that can normally tolerate a wide range of climates quite well,” Mr Clark said.

Mr Clark said he was surprised more Australian farmers were not growing pecans.

“They can get up to $80 a kilo for a nut in shell,” he said. 

“And while they can take a while to get going, they are incredibly long-lasting trees that can keep producing nuts for 100 years or more.”

Stories from farms and country towns across Australia, delivered each Friday.