Nut Grower’s As­so­ci­a­tion Meets At It­tner Farm

McDonald County Press - - FARM & HOME - Me­gan Davis McDon­ald County Press mdavis@nwadg.com

On a hu­mid Septem­ber morn­ing in the Ozarks, nut nuts of all va­ri­eties gath­ered at Dwight and Barb It­tner’s prop­erty in north­ern Noel. Nearly two dozen mem­bers of the Mis­souri Nut Grower’s As­so­ci­a­tion con­vened to ob­serve and dis­cuss Dwight’s wal­nut har­vest­ing, hulling, float­ing and dry­ing tech­niques. Farm­ers of a va­ri­ety of choice-grade nuts shared anec­dotes and ad­vice. Those present re­ported crops of per­sim­mons, paw­paws, pecans, hardy cit­rus, el­der­ber­ries, chest­nuts and hick­ory nuts.

Dwight be­gan the demon­stra­tion by shak­ing a wal­nut tree in or­der to col­lect and gather the nuts once they’ve fallen to the ground. He also dis­played a new at­tach­ment on his trac­tor that clasps the tree mid-height and me­chan­i­cally shakes the nuts free. As he does this, the ground quiv­ers and the fresh, green smell of ripe wal­nuts per­me­ates the air.

Rather than col­lect­ing each wal­nut by hand and de­posit­ing them into a bucket, Dwight in­tro­duced many mem­bers to a “nut wiz­ard” which rolls over the ground and gath­ers the wal­nuts in a rolling, wire bas­ket-like tool. A side panel is then opened and the nuts are poured into a bucket.

With one tree shaken, Dwight col­lected three buck­ets of un­hulled wal­nuts, which equates to one bucket of hulled nuts.

To hull the nuts, Dwight uses in­no­va­tive ma­chin­ery made by Ger­ald Gard­ner out of Di­a­mond. The at­tach­ment con­nects to a trac­tor and fea­tures a rub­ber tire with re­bar curved and mounted on the perime­ter. Dwight pours the wal­nuts into a dis­penser above the tire and then pa­tiently waits as the nuts are sifted down, pressed be­tween the spin­ning tire and the re­bar, and dropped — hulled — into a bucket be­low.

Dwight says he prefers this method be­cause it is softer on the wal­nuts than the process at Ham­mons, which uses chains to hull the nut.

The ex­posed wal­nuts now need to be washed. Dwight uses an elec­tric po­tato cleaner filled with a com­bi­na­tion of rain­wa­ter and bleach.

“Other grow­ers are known to use con­crete mix­ers,” said Noel Fis­cher, MNGA mem­ber. Dwight noted that he pre­vi­ously used a con­crete mixer be­fore ac­quir­ing the po­tato cleaner at an­other nut farmer’s auc­tion.

Clean nuts are then put into a tub of wa­ter where the “floaters” are scooped out and cast off. Dwight ex­plained that wal­nuts that float are hol­low with no nut in­side, so they are sorted by float­ing to pre­vent wasted la­bor crack­ing duds.

These wet nuts are then weighed, to­tal­ing 27 pounds, and the data is recorded into Dwight’s log­book be­fore the nuts are drained and placed on dry­ing trays. The nuts will stay in these trays from Oc­to­ber, when they’re har­vested, un­til Novem­ber, when they’re cracked.

Dwight said he de­posits his har­vest at Ham­mons in Stockton each De­cem­ber but holds close to 200 pounds back to sell per­son­ally at $13 each. He noted that most of these bags are spo­ken for come har­vest time by other cus­tomers at Barb’s hair­dresser.

Ail­ments to which nut trees are sus­cep­ti­ble, proper spac­ing be­tween plants, weather ac­com­mo­da­tions, un­wanted crit­ters and how to de­ter them, new ma­chin­ery and graft­ing were top­ics of dis­cus­sion as well. Graft­ing is a hor­ti­cul­tural tech­nique that joins two plants by com­bin­ing tis­sue from both and al­low­ing them to grow to­gether over time.

The It­tners have more than 200 grafted trees in three plant­ings. Their prop­erty in­cludes a cer­ti­fied Tree Farm that cov­ers 120 acres, more or less.

Dwight and Barb It­tner met 52 years ago in the Zool­ogy De­part­ment at Fort Hays State Univer­sity in Kan­sas where Dwight was work­ing on a mas­ter’s de­gree in zool­ogy and fresh­man Barb was work­ing as a de­part­men­tal sec­re­tary. Af­ter a cou­ple of years, Dwight de­cided that teach­ing at the univer­sity level wasn’t what he re­ally wanted to do. A mas­ter’s de­gree in li­brary science was soon added to his re­sume. Dwight worked as a science li­brar­ian at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri for four years be­fore mov­ing to Fair­banks, Alaska, as the new univer­sity bio-med­i­cal li­brar­ian (later re­named bio-sci­ences) where he re­tired af­ter 21 years. Dwight then took a year off to do a lot of cross-coun­try ski­ing and help care for a baby grand­son while his daugh­ter com­pleted her de­gree.

The It­tners re­turned to Mis­souri in the fall of 1997 to care for Dwight’s mother. Dwight sub­se­quently re­ceived 129 acres of hills and rocks. Be­cause na­tive wal­nut grew on the site, a nut or­chard was started in 1999 with six black wal­nut seedlings. The one-man op­er­a­tion be­came a cer­ti­fied tree farm a few years later. There are now three or­chard sites with about 250 black wal­nut and two heart­nut trees.

PHO­TOS BY ME­GAN DAVIS/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

Phil Moore sorts through drain­ing wet nuts and in­spects them. A num­ber of vari­ables ef­fect the qual­ity of a nut, in­clud­ing ker­nel size, nut meat and shell depth, many of which can­not be seen un­til the nuts are cracked.

Dwight It­tner re­moves any floaters from a batch of wal­nuts. If a wal­nut floats, there is no nut in­side and it is con­sid­ered a dud.

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