Food columnist Kathryn Rem talks about a pecan farmer's crop hit by Mother Nature.

A double dose of adverse weather has temporarily halted production at Voss Pecans, Illinois’ only commercial pecan farm and a vendor at Springfield’s farmers market.

Ralph Voss, who owns the Carlyle farm with his wife, Karen, was at the Old Capitol Farmers Market to sell off the rest of his 2006 pecan crop that he keeps frozen. He won’t return until 2009.

Straight-line winds that reached more than 100 mph last July left much of his Clinton County pecan farm in ruins.

“Trees are usually a solid thing until they break or get a bad spot. Once they’re broke, it allows them to start rotting, and it’s just a matter of time before you get a big windstorm and they come down,” Voss said.

Beating nature to the punch, he has since cut down 240 of the wind-damaged trees and expects to remove 200 more over the next few years.

“It kind of hurts,” he said about the wild pecan groves that he spent years tending — clearing thick brush and timber by hand, spraying to keep away pecan weevils and tagging so he could chart production of each tree. “I’d rather have lost a building than the trees.”

After last year’s windstorm, he was left with about 2,600 productive trees. Until a cold snap hit Illinois in April.

“The buds were coming out. They were starting to leaf. Then the buds froze and were killed,” said Voss, who also grows wheat, corn and soybeans on his farm. The freeze followed an unseasonable springlike March that lulled plants into budding.

That second weather whammy killed pecan production for this year.

But Voss expects his 2008 crop, which will be harvested in November and December, to be a “limb-breaker.”

“The trees will over-produce next year,” he said. He’ll be able to sell that crop, which he freezes, at the Springfield farmers market in 2009. He also sells his pecans from his home and at a farmers market in St. Louis.

And he’s replanting.

“If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the trees I’m putting in are a little bigger and better at producing. They’re the best of the best.” The new trees are being planted in rows, unlike the native variety that fill his orchards now. It will be about eight years before the new trees produce nuts.

Voss has been growing and selling pecans for 22 years. His nut farm is near the rich Kaskaskia River bottom, which has had wild pecan trees since before it was settled.
The last time his crop froze was in 1990. He thinks a freeze might have hit the trees in the mid-1970s, too.

“It happens about once in 20 years,” he said.

But Voss, 53, is not a man who dwells on the past. He’s planning for the 2008 crop and looking forward to harvesting the nuts from his new and better trees.

“Down the road,” he said, “we’re going to have really beautiful pecans.”

Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at 788-1520 or kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.