What awards and recognition have you received in the past?
Kristen and I were selected to represent the Pecan Industry at the 2017 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Chicago, IL. We met with approximately 25 Food Bloggers, Dietitians, Nutritionists, and food industry influencers to build relationships and tell the story of the American Pecan. This was sponsored by the newly formed American Pecan Board established by a Federal Marketing Order. We have been given many opportunities to share with media about the history of pecans, benefits of using pecans and the struggles that the industry faces. We received blue ribbons on various pecan varieties at the county, regional, and state levels from the Texas Agrilife Extension. We also received the Lone Star Farmer Award from FFA in 1999.
What hobbies or other interests do you have?
I enjoy restoring old equipment. I find old pieces of machinery at auctions or from individual sellers and buy them, repair them, paint them, and re-purpose them. Sometimes it’s re-purposing them for my own use and other times I turn around and sell them. Many times the equipment I find is in another state, so I load up my trailer, take a friend or family member with me, and take off after it. I’ve traveled to Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana and many parts of Texas to pick up my finds. I also enjoy traveling. I’ve been to forty-five of the fifty states in the United States. Most of those trips were spent traveling in the car. That’s my favorite way to travel. I believe that part of the trip is exploring along the way. And the best way to do that is in a car. It’s amazing the places you will find on the small country roads rather than by plane or even by staying on the interstates. I also enjoy serving in different capacities at my church. I help lead our youth group on Wednesday nights, I’m an elder on our leadership board and I like helping with different outreach projects that our church does for our community. This summer Kristen and I and another couple had the opportunity to serve as the leaders of 15th Annual Mission San Saba where we rehabbed a house and turned it into a home for a single mom and her two boys. We had over 200 people donate money to the project and over 200 people show up to help with the project throughout the week. It was a large undertaking and we look forward to next years project.
List your travel experiences outside of Texas.
I love to travel across the United States to see how other people live and explore new territory. Most vacations tend to be road trips that stay away from cities and major roads. That is the way I was raised and that is how it is for my girls. Being a small business owner, most of my vacations are dual purpose - to have fun and to sell pecans! The last few years, we have taken pecan product samples with us on the road to find new wholesale customers. This last summer we went to the Grand Canyon and the west coast. We stayed with friends in El Paso and toured their pecan farm to learn about how they grow pecans. It was a totally different technique than the way we grow pecans in central Texas since they have less rainfall per year than we do. The highlight of the trip for me was to see the orchards and vineyards of the Central Valley in California. They were in the middle of almond harvest, as well as tomato and onion harvest. The vast orchards were incredible to witness. We never pass up the opportunity to stop at Farmer's Markets to gain new insights in how they market their crops and how we could improve in marketing our pecans.
In years past, we have been to the east coast to tour pecan and peach orchards in Georgia. Since there are a limited number of pecan shelling plants locally, we contacted several operations to take tours of shelling and processing plants across the pecan belt. From nurseries that sell pecans to orchards, the management for pecan scab is a foreign concept from what we deal with in central Texas. A few of our trips have require us to pull a trailer for equipment. Our trips have taken us to the Midwest states of Illinois and Indiana during corn harvest to get farm equipment and tractors. There is always something to be seen in rural America that are unique to the region.
Provide a narrative of your farming and/or ranching operation.
Our family has been harvesting pecans since 1888. My great-great grandfather started the first pecan orchard in San Saba, Texas in the early 1900s and really helped establish San Saba as "The Pecan Capital of the World". He put great emphasis on developing new varieties of pecans from his nursery and was responsible for developing soft "paper shell pecans" which had a huge impact on the pecan industry. Instead of people having to work tirelessly to crack the hard shelled pecans that natively grow in Texas, consumers were now able to more easily crack pecans and enjoy the sweet meat inside. Five generations later, I am responsible for managing over 12,000 pecan trees, which is about 1,000 acres. Farming is something that is in my blood. I value the land that has been passed down from my ancestors and I recognize the rarity of still having that land in our family. As a result Kristen and I, along with my parents, have recently purchased another 150 acres in Eastern San Saba County with the anticipation of planting another pecan orchard. Along with pecan orchards and river bottoms, Millican Pecan Company has a pecan shelling plant where we remove the pecan shells from the pecan meat. We have sorters and sizing equipment to add value to the pecans themselves. We typically shell pecans from October to March with the busy season being November and December. The remaindered pecans are stored in our cold storage facility until our customers are ready for them. This freezer is the cornerstone of our pecan candy factory. We have a commercial kitchen where we turn our pecans into pies and candy. The majority of our pecans are sold via our website, MillicanPecan.com. It has and will continue to be a work in progress. We started the website from our college apartment and we still have longtime customers from that time period. It was always my grandfather's idea to keep diversified operation. While we are vertically integrated with our pecans, we also have other interest. In addition to pecans, our family also harvests wheat. We've been growing wheat for 25 years now. My dad was the one responsible for initiating the establishment of the wheat crops that we produce. Now we harvest about 500 acres of wheat each year and graze out or bale the remainder. This fall I hope to plant 1000 acres into small grains if the weather cooperates. We have been No Till since 2008 but recently starting using a strip till rig for fertilizer placement. Our mother cows are primarily Angus and Herford crosses. They produc gentle calves for us to put on wheat. Since our farmland has outpaced our ranch land, we do not have enough stocker calves of our own to put on wheat. We partner with some locals to put their calves on us as well. This helps offset the production cost of wheat and we do not have to rely solely on the grain market. To offset some of production cost, we lease our land out to deer hunters. We have approximately 35 deer hunters who enjoy hunting our low fence ranch. We have any activities in the fall and winter with harvest and deer season and this wouldn't be possible without the help from our seasonal help.
What are your agricultural and other leadership goals? And how do you see the AgLead - FarmLead experience helping you to obtain these goals?
I personally would like to be Chairman of our Pecan Federal Marketing Order (FMO). I really like working with marketing strategies and developing techniques to drive sales. The FMO has an estimated budget of 7-8 million dollars annual and I would like to be involved with the process of how it is spent. Some of the steps I think are necessary is becoming the President of the Texas Pecan Growers Association. These goals require dedicated time to each one. At this particular phase of life, I do not have the time required to give to these efforts because I have small children and volunteer at my church. I think the Aglead-FarmLead program could help develop new skills needed to be an effective communicator for the Ag industry.
Name the leader you respect most and explain your reasoning.
Over the last few years, having lots of windshield time driving tractors, audiobooks have become an enjoyable pastime. I often ask people I respect what books they have been reading. On one such occasion, San Saba’s county judge sent me a reading list of several great books including Eric Metaxas’s Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness. When talking about men like Wilbur Wilberforce (freed the slaves in England) and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (tried unsuccessfully to overthrow Hilter), one can only image what obstacles and obstruction they faced daily. Giving the set of circumstances, their perseverance and their character helped solidify them as great men. They had an eternal hope that did not disappoint. In fact, Bonhoeffer was killed by Nazis weeks before the war was over. It is easy to lead when things are going great, but when things are bad, it takes a strong leader to step in and change direction. Deep faith in a greater good propelled these men to do hard things that were not expected of them. They went against the grain of society and cultural norms. For that, they can be commended.
Why do you desire to participate in the Aglead - FarmLead program? If selected, what are your personal expectations of the program? How do you plan to use the AgLead - FarmLead experience?
I want to participate in the Aglead-FarmLead program to grow and learn new things. I am a “Hands On” learner so the experiences that this program would entail would help with my agricultural leadership. The governmental part of agriculture is very important to farmers, but it is uncharted territory for me. I would like to gain more understanding for the legislative process. The other participants that are selected are also going to be a great source of knowledge and I look forward to meeting them and building working relationships with them. If selected. I plan to use the experiences that I learn from other producers, not only in my business and farming practices, but to help others as well. In the agriculture industry, we have to help educate people about what is important to us. The natural resources we are entrusted with must be preserved for future generations. We have an agricultural story and we need to share it.
Please provide your opinions into the greatest obstacle facing agriculture today.
The greatest obstacle facing agriculture today is having less than 2% of the population involved in the production of agriculture and the other 98% not knowing where their food comes from or how it is produced.