Thursday, June 6, 2013

Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves

Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves located just north of Alamogordo on Hwy. 54/70 offers free guided tours of their pistachio grove and processing plant.  We highly recommend it!  The tour starts in their fabulous visitors center!  
The visitors center has a wine tasting room and art gallery!  Be sure to try some Pistachio Rose'!  The wines we tasted were excellent! 
I like these horse pictures.  They came in pretty copper tones, too.
There is a gift shop offering high quality gifts, and of course, pistachios!  The pistachios come in an assortment of flavors.  Lots of free samples are available!  You can stop by the visitors center without taking the full walking tour. 
This is a male pistachio tree.  You can tell, as it has rougher bark and the branches grow upward.  Only one male is required for 15 females.  The pollen is transferred by the wind rather than bees.  Since the wind blows from the southwest the males are planted to that side of the females.  Irrigation in the groves is done through a drip system. 
This is a female pistachio tree.  The bark is smoother than the males, and its branches grow downward. 
Pistachio means happy nut!  By mid May the pistachios outer shell is fully developed, but the nuts won't be ready for harvest until early September.   
Pistachio trees grow to a mature height of about 30 feet.  They begin to produce nuts in their 4th-5th year after planting.  Good production takes 8-10 years, with full bearing maturity occurring after 15-20 years.  Average yield per tree is 1/2 pound the 5th year increasing up to 45 pounds at maturity!
Pistachio trees are deciduous trees and are dormant December through February.  In March the female puts out sticky leaf buds and the male is ready to pollinate by April.
The first nut harvest is done in early September using shaker and catcher equipment.  The tree is shook for only 8 seconds, so as not to damage the roots.  One more harvest will be done later in the season. 
The red on the map shows where pistachios are grown in North America.  Pistachios are also grown in Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan.  The climate in the Tularosa Basin of New Mexico is said to be almost identical to the pistachio producing areas of Iran and Turkey! 
These are the bins that the pistachios are transported in from various points in their processing.  Prior to machines being adapted to pour nuts directly from these crates, workers had to hand off 6 gallon buckets of nuts to each other to fill the processing equipment!  
This is one of those great innovations!  Rather than handing off a 6 gallon bucket full of nuts to a worker on a ladder to fill the hopper, a forklift raises an entire crate to the top and the machine dumps the nuts into the hopper.  The stainless steel funnels are taken to other processing machines around the plant.  
This machine is a high tech color sorter.  It uses a computer and infrared lights to separate the pieces of nutmeats that are below standard from the good nutmeats.  The computer is programmed by showing it a handful of below grade product and pushing the "reject" button.  The computer is then shown a handful of good product and the "save" button is pushed.  The pieces of nutmeats travel at a high rate of speed down two black channels where the infrared light scans them.  The computer either lets the piece pass as a "save" or triggers a small jet of air which kicks the piece out of the line into the rear "reject" bin!  Wow!  Amazing what computers and the people who set-up computer programs can do!        
This is a needle sorter machine.  The inside of this rotating barrel has thousands of needles.  As the barrel rotates, the pistachios with the shells split open will get caught on the needles.  They are carried to the top of the cylinder where they are brushed into a chute that goes to a bin.  The barrel is on a slant so that the closed shell nuts called tights will eventually work their way out the end of the barrel into a bin. 
This machine is a nut size sorter.  As the nuts vibrate inside the stainless steel troughs they fall into holes matching their size and then into bins.  The stainless steel trough in the blue stand sorts out the small nuts and pieces.  The medium to large nuts travel into  the lower stainless steel trough where they are sorted by falling through holes matching their size. 
This machine catches the shells and other discards.  The steel tubing going off to the right vents dust size particles.  The shells and other discards are used to build-up the pistachio grove roads!  Nothing goes to waste! 
Although the machines do the vast majority of sorting, the human eye is the final inspection! 
This is the roasting and flavoring room.  Many of the flavors are sprayed on in a water mixture, as the barrel shown to the left rotates.  The oven on the right can roast several thousand pounds of nuts at one time. 
After the pistachios are machine weighed and packaged, they are weighed again manually by human quality control! 
The nuts can be kept fresh for up to a year in 45 degree cold storage.  Nuts are shipped UPS.
A variety of flavored nuts and other products can be custom packaged as gifts at your request! 
Meet George and Marianne Schweers, owners of Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves and Heart Of The Desert Wines.  They purchased a grove of 400 two year old pistachio trees in 1974 prior to George's retirement as an Air Force officer at Holloman AFB in 1979.  Growing up in rural Nebraska, it was a family goal to return to agriculture after George's military service.  Little did they know what the future would have in store!  For the first five years George, Marianne, and their three children did the farming all by hand!  Having the only pistachio grove in New Mexico at that time, they had to develop their own processing operation or truck the nuts out of state for processing.  In 1986 they built their first gift shop store at Eagle Ranch.  Taking a step at a time they met the challenges of expansion.  They now have 85 acres with approximately 12,000 pistachio trees!!!  In 2003 12,000 grapevines were planted to add diversity to the farm.  In 2004 they opened a second gift shop in Las Cruces, NM and in 2009 opened a third store in Mesilla, NM.  Their children are all active in running the family business.
It's always interesting learning about people who have pursued their dream by taking the first simple steps, met the challenges, and eventually oversee an operation with national recognition!  We purchased three wines at the end of our tour:  Pistachio Rose', Muscat of Alexandria, and Syrah.  They carry a large variety.  Check out the products that are available for order online at: