Matthew and Deborah Williams are retired but by no means are they taking it easy.
Instead, the Hahira, Georgia couple have decided to devote most of their free time to running the Williams Farm and improving the production of their pecan grove.
For more than 20 years, the Williams’ have grown pecans. Presently, their grove has more than 50 trees on two acres.
Since 2012, Matthew, a retired industrial mechanic, and Deborah, a retired educator, have used the sales of their pecan crop to supplement their retirement income.
While the yields were satisfactory, the couple felt there was room for improvement. “Initially, we were trying to do it on our own. We really didn’t have anybody we could depend on,” Matthew said.
However, that all changed when they connected with Joshua (Josh) Dawson, Fort Valley State University’s (FVSU) Lowndes County Extension agent while attending a pecan growers meeting.
“They told me about the problems they were having, and the relationship grew from there,” Dawson said.
The FVSU Extension agent said that when a client approaches him to seek help with a problem, it is best to keep the dialogue simple. “I’m not here to throw out big terms or anything like that. I have a regular conversation, see what’s going on and see how I can help them. I don’t promise them the world, I just go out there and do what I can do,” he said.
With Dawson’s help, the Williams’ learned several methods to help increase their pecan production. One of them includes pruning the trees so they can get the proper sunlight and air to grow better.
“Josh came out with his tools, helped us, showed us what we needed to do and how to prune them.” We followed his instructions and the next year our trees just grew,” Deborah said.
Matthew says it is especially important that a farmer has a good working relationship with their Extension agent. “When we do run into problems, we will call Josh and he will come to see what is going on,” he said.
Deborah eagerly describes a situation where they immediately called on Dawson’s expertise to solve a problem.
“One day, we noticed that the trees were dropping a lot of leaves. We told him that we’d never seen that before, so he came out and took a few samples. He then walked through the orchard, sent the samples off for examination and returned later to tell us what we needed to do,” she said.
With Dawson’s assistance through the local Extension office, they learned the proper time to use fertilizer, what to use to spray the trees and the proper time to spray. “We are doing better. Last year, we had a wonderful crop. Anyway, we made a little money,” Deborah said with a laugh.
The Williams’ said they recommend anyone seeking help from FVSU’s Extension office to contact Dawson first. “He’ll lead them to where they need to go. Trying to be a farmer without help from Extension and professionals such as Josh is hard unless you went to school to be a farmer. You just need the help,” Deborah said.
In addition to their pecan growing operation, Dawson also helped the Williams obtain a high tunnel hoop house. They plan to work closely with Dawson as they seek to expand their operation to grow vegetables, grapes and citrus fruits.
Furthermore, the FVSU Extension agent says he stays motivated by providing his client’s good service. “If you’re going to be in this profession, you must be willing to help others. I’m not going to have all the answers, and I tell people that. But I do my best to help solve their problem.”
For more information on services provided by FVSU’s Cooperative Extension Program, call (478) 825-6296.