CAMERON — Robert Schuetze has a green thumb when it comes to growing award-winning pecans.
The Waco resident, who has a pecan orchard in Milam County, has won nine grand or reserve grand championships since 1995 at the Texas State Pecan Show held each year during the Texas Pecan Growers Association conference. The nine award-winners have all come from his Milam orchard.
He showed the champion classic pecan named the Waco Wonder at the 2012 state pecan show in College Station. The Waco Wonder in 2012 produced 41.5 nuts per pound and was 56.8 percent kernel.
“This award is one he is proud of because no one else has that pecan,” said Milam County Extension Agent Jon Gersbach. “A lot of work and effort goes into that.”
His prize-winning pecans were produced from a tree he grafted at his northern Milam County orchard near Burlington and they were produced during a year when pecans were plentiful compared with the 2013 pecan crop, which is extremely limited in the Milam County area.
Schuetze and Albus Pecan Farm of Trinity were the only two growers who entered the Milam County Pecan Show this past week and their entries were sent to the regional show in Brenham. The show normally gets eight to nine entries.
Schuetze said his orchard yielded 200 pounds of pecans from 20 trees this year compared with 1,000 pounds in 2012.
Gersbach said this year’s poor crop in Milam and surrounding counties can be attributed to a heavy crop in 2012 and lack of rainfall at the right time. “It takes a lot of water to make pecans,” he said. “Most people called and said they didn’t have any pecans. It became apparent a week ago we weren’t going to have a show.
“We’re likely to have a big crop in this area next year,” he said. “Birds and squirrels will rob the pecans when there is a short crop. We have no pecans in Waco either. We have a few Waco pecans this year.”
Schuetze’s Waco Wonder, named to compete in the state show, can be found in just two places — his Milam orchard, where he has 30 trees, and in the yard of his late friend Fred Hagckmann in Waco, where Schuetze obtained two sticks from the tree to graft a tree in his orchard.
Schuetze, who entered his first Milam County show in 1995, said he was visiting Hagckmann at his home in the 1990s when he saw a bowl of pecans on a table.
He said he ate one and realized “this was a nice pecan and tasted good and was a beautiful pecan when shelled out. It looks like any other pecan tree. It has characteristics that make it good — color, shape.”
Hagckmann told him the pecans came from a tree in his backyard and squirrels or birds planted it there.
Schuetze asked Hagckmann for two limbs from the tree so he could graft them (in the mid-1990s) and have the same pecans.
Schuetze entered 40 of the first pecans produced by the trees in the Milam County show, where they received a first place blue ribbon.
After Schuetze won ribbons for several years, a judge at the regional show told him he needed to name the pecan. So, in 2008 after consulting with Hagckmann and his wife, he named the pecan the Waco Wonder.
After a dry spell took its toll on the pecan crop, rainfall in 2012 filled the ponds and Schuetze was able to water the trees, resulting in a solid crop of Waco Wonders. He entered 40 pecans in the following Milam County show. From there they advanced to the regional show, where they were selected reserve champion and were named champion classic pecan in the state show.
“Every tree is unique from a seed,” Schuetze said. “If you have a seed tree, native or anything else, it’s unique in the sense that it has genes from all around, like people do. The only way to have that same pecan is to take a piece of actual pecan wood and graft it on to another pecan tree. It will be the exact same thing where you got the graft stick from. You cannot get it from the pecan seed, but from the pecan wood.”
The secret to his success: water, nitrogen and zinc, he said.
“Make sure you don’t have too many trees bunched together,” Schuetze said. “Let the sun hit the ground.”
Bell/Williamson County Pecan Show information
The annual Bell/Williamson County Pecan Show is Dec. 5 at the Bell County Expo Center.
Pecan entries are due in the Bell or Williamson County Extension Office by Dec. 2. There is no limit on the number of entries an exhibitor may enter, but limited to one entry per variety, no limit on natives. Anyone can enter the show whether a commercial grower or from your backyard tree.
An entry consists of 40 pecans in a paper bag labeled with all contact information and pecan variety. There is no fee to enter, and awards will be presented.
When selecting pecans for an entry, you should find heavy nuts that represent their respective variety, select uniform size, shape and color, and make sure they are disease and insect free. Do not shell the pecans.
For more information, call 254-933-5305.
The Pecan Food show entries are due by 9 a.m. Dec. 5. Cost is $5 per entry. Classes are for youth and adults and include pecan-based pies, bread and rolls, candy, cookies and cakes.
Contact Chelsea Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or the Williamson County Extension Office at 512-943-3300 for more information about entry rules for the food show.