Running a family agriculture business for 67 years is tough, and Brett Bishop, the fourth generation taking the wheel, joked he hopes it doesn't end with him. B & B Pecan sits on 120 acres just …
Running a family agriculture business for 67 years is tough, and Brett Bishop, the fourth generation taking the wheel, joked he hopes it doesn't end with him.
B & B Pecan sits on 120 acres just south of downtown Fairhope. The pecan orchard is a mix of tall pecan trees over 70 years old and others that were planted just after the wreckage was cleared from Hurricane Sally.
Brett is in his mid-20s, newly married and fully immersed in the daily operation of the business. Right now, it's the busiest time of year.
As he walked out of the retail building and into the barn, Bishop explained the origins of the business.
"Nanny got pregnant when Papa got back from Korea. He went to the Korean War, came back, got married and had a baby. She wanted to stay home, so her dad gave her the idea to start a retail pecan business," Brett said. "That is when B & B started. It stands for Brown and Bishop. Nanny and Papa technically started and ran the business for the last 67 years."
The land was part of the original family farm that had been broken up. Clarence and Sandra (Nanny and Papa) Bishop's property had approximately 5 acres of existing pecan trees, and they expanded over the years. It grew to 120 acres until their son, Doug Bishop, and daughter, Mona Barfield, joined the business.
Doug is Brett's father, and he worked in the paper mills for 20 years. When his father was ready to take a step back from the daily operations, he left the mill behind. It was during his tenure that B & B Pecan grew outside of the family land.
"He grew it, and we took over two other orchards and started growing," Brett said. "Then Dad had to cut back. He hurt himself and had a hip replacement, and it was harder for him. Then Sally hit."
Hurricane Sally, like others before, did a number on local pecan orchards. The 24 hours of rain and wind toppled approximately 25%, or nearly 400, of the trees in the B & B Pecan orchard. The two additional orchards the family farmed were badly hit. One lost nearly every tree.
"That is when we dropped the other orchards," Brett said. "We didn't have the manpower. It was me, Dad and one other employee. It was too much."
With the combination of Doug Bishop's hip replacement, employees leaving due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Sally, Brett was needed on the farm. He said the classroom wasn't for him, and he knew what was at stake.
"In all honesty, if I wouldn't have done this, Dad would have been the last (generation)," Brett said.
While most of his time is spent inside the call center in the back of the retail building, Brett still gets his hands dirty. His dad still manages the farm operation but occasionally needs Brett to leave his desk for the tree shaker or the sweeper. Doug can often be found on the grading line.
Have you ever wondered how many steps it takes for that pecan to reach your pie or Fairhope Chocolate turtle? Many more than you might think.
The pecans are shaken from the tree, the sweeper moves the pecans to the grassy aisles on either side of the trees, and then the tractor comes through pulling a harvester. The pecan harvester dumps the pecans into a wagon, and when it is full, they travel through a system of conveyors and pressurized air (to blow the light pecans out) and then are sorted by hand. B & B Pecan sorters work quickly to spot and remove cracked, bad or green pecans. As the pecan's journey continues, it goes through a system of screens where they are sorted by size. The largest goes through another set of hands. The pecans then fill containers and wait for a trip to the shelling plant.
Not all the pecans get a trip to Georgia for shelling. Some stay behind for those hard-core customers who like to crack and pick their own.
Once the pecans are in the hands of the team, they are bagged. From the beginning of October until after Christmas, B & B Pecans employs approximately 21 employees. Doug said he needs around five for harvesting, and the rest work in the retail shop, call center, order fulfillment and shipping.
The busiest season may be the holidays, but Brett said they see a good flow of snowbirds who make the trip to stock up.
When it comes to the growth of the business, Brett is focused on how to grow the retail and mail order business and continue to serve generations of customers.
Brett has started to see the next generation of returning corporate customers calling to place their annual corporate gift orders. He said it means a lot that they have continued the tradition of ordering from his family business.
When asked how he feels about carrying on the family business, he replied, "It is a privileged duty. I am carrying on a 67-year-old business. It is a lot of responsibility. I don't want to say pressure because I have a family unit around me: my Nanny, Papa, Dad, and my aunt Mona. They are still around, so it is not like the full weight of it is on me. I have stepped up to want to carry on the business. I have put that on my shoulders, and I want to see it continue."
For more information about B & B Pecans, visit www.pecangifts.com.