- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

LOGANSPORT, Ind. (AP) - Twelve acres of seemingly perfectly straight rows of walnut trees sit tall along U.S. 35 just northwest of Logansport.

The Kesling family started its tree plantation there in 1991, transplanting grafted black walnut trees from Purdue University to 5 acres of former corn farmland.

Curtis Kesling and his brother Rob went to a Purdue seminar about the financial payoff of growing and harvesting walnut trees. The brothers told their father, Estell, about the advantages of the trees, but he couldn’t see it making a profit.

“So he made us buy from him the first 5 acres. He thought we were crazy,” Kesling said with a chuckle.

In the first year, he said, the trees grew to 5 feet tall and another 5 feet the second year. It was then when Kesling said his father invested in the trees and planted another 7 acres in 1993.

The 1,950 trees on the property are grown for producing walnuts, but more importantly, Kesling said, for the lumber. He said in 35 to 40 years after planting the trees, each one is projected to be worth upward of $10,000.

Kesling said the trees, now between 22 and 25 years old, will still take a few years before they mature to what the lumber industry calls for, between 18-24 inches. The trees currently average 12-15 inches.

Even though the family had to seize its corn crop in 1990, Kesling said the potential of the walnut trees outweighed sticking with corn. And, it’s paid off so far.

“We’ve looked at it as which mutual fund do you want to put your money into? Do you want to put it over here and get a low rate of return, or do you want to put it over here and get a higher rate of return? We chose the higher rate of return,” he said.

Terry Bailey, manager of the plantation, works alongside his wife and brother-in-law in harvesting the walnuts, picking up each nut from around the rows of trees.

Bailey, who lives outside Galveston, developed a machine to do the job, making modifications to golf ball picker baskets attached to a John Deere tractor spanning 9 feet wide.

“Right now, going up and down these rows, if I’m paying attention over here, I may not see nuts over there,” he said, “but this machine don’t care, it just picks it up.”

His wife and brother-in-law, on the other hand, use a tool with a mesh cage called a Nut Wizard to pick up the remaining nuts around the trees.

Bailey said he eventually wants to create a machine that expedites the harvesting process. They have 30 customers in Cass, Miami and Howard counties, so he wants to keep improving the business.

“There is no machine specifically built to harvest black walnuts,” Bailey said. “So our idea and goal here is to change that.”

In addition to the financial side of the tree plantation, Kesling calls it his family’s own little forest.

“We love it. We come down, my wife and I walk our new grandbaby down here in a stroller, and we’ve taken the dogs for walks for years,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s neat and it’s ours.”

Kesling and his wife and children live next to his parents on the family farm, overlooking a spring-fed pond and the trees. He said his parents have the best few of the “little forest” from their living room window.

“You can see how many are there,” Kesling said. “All like a bunch of little soldiers.”

Once the trees are harvested for lumber, Kesling said his son aims to plant another couple acres of walnut trees on the land the family cash rents for soybeans to continue the now family tradition.

“Money really does grow on trees,” Bailey said.

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Source: (Logansport) Pharos-Tribune, https://bit.ly/1kbwkP8

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Information from: Pharos-Tribune, https://www.pharostribune.com

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