Pecan tree farmer Compton

Jim Compton stands in his field of young pecan trees at his home northeast of Florence Boulevard and Interstate 10 near Casa Grande.

CASA GRANDE — The holidays usually give me a choice of pies. Pumpkin or pecan. I choose pecan.

Pecan pie’s my favorite.

I’m sure I’ll still like it in 10 years. That’ll be a good time to show up at Jim and Cindy Compton’s place, dessert tray in hand. Their pecans should be ready by then. And I have it on good authority, Cindy makes a mean pecan pie.

I got that from Jim, Cindy’s husband.

He planted the trees that will yield the pecans, with a lot of help from Cindy and a team of planters. You’ll see the trees as you cruise south on Mission Parkway, just before entering The Promenade at Casa Grande.

They take up 40 acres between Mission and Hacienda Road. The Comptons’ house is smack in the middle. Twenty acres on one side, 20 on the other.

The nearly 2,500 saplings stand in formation, like a high school marching band. You can’t miss them. People asked me and the Dispatch newsroom about them. I tracked them to Compton.

I spoke to him last Monday, at his day job. He’s the crop nutrition sales manager at Fertizona on South Peart Road. He also happens to own the business, which includes branches throughout Arizona as well as in California and Mexico.

He sells just about anything a farmer needs for a healthy crop and, hopefully, a healthy return. Plant nutrition, seeds, pest control and the advice of agronomists. He started the business in 1980, a few years after earning a degree from the University of Arizona.

He majored in plant nutrition. Plant nutrition, he reminded me, is the proper term. Not fertilizer.

The name Fertizona stays, however. Compton has built the company into the largest of its kind in Arizona. It’s a name farmers know.

Compton is an Arizona original himself. He was born in Tucson and grew up Buckeye. He moved to Casa Grande after buying the business that became Fertizona. He has it down to the date: May 20, 1980.

He and Cindy live in the house they built 20 years ago. They purchased the land about five years before that. The Promenade came later.

“I didn’t move to town,” he said. “The town moved to me.”

Compton, 67, is Old West laconic. He doesn’t use eight words when five will do.

For years, he and Cindy lived in the middle of a cotton field. Maybe, at times, it was wheat or alfalfa. In any case, Compton didn’t farm it. He just leased the land out. But he had an idea, even before the cotton harvester made its final pass.

He wanted to grow his own pecans. He’d been thinking about it for years.

“Five years ago, in the middle of the night, I woke up and began to talk about that.”

Cindy must have been the first to hear about it. He was soon mulling it over with Max and Adam Max Spilsbury, father and son. They manage Daybreak Pecan Co., with some 800 acres of pecan trees near Picacho.

“I wanted to see if we could make pecan trees a permanent crop here,” he said. “We could pass that knowledge on to farmers.”

He was eager to learn himself. So when the lease on cotton was up, the trees went in.

That was in early March. The Spilsburys helped him out of the starting gate.

He set up drip irrigation, with help from David Wuertz. He runs Arizona Drip Systems. Compton bought the saplings from Linwood Nursery in La Grange, California. Linwood specializes in pecan stock for farmers.

Compton went with two varieties, Western and Wichita.

Planting took 10 days.

Holes were dug with an augur. Three feet deep and 2½ feet wide. Compton rose from his office chair to demonstrate.

“You set the tree in.” Compton held an air tree and lined it up with a pretend row. “You have to kind of judge.”

The hole is filled. Compton wielded an air shovel. He shoveled pretend dirt in his office. The last few shovelfuls, he said, should push out the water and free any trapped air. Plants work best that way. Air above and dirt below.

In March, he was out there with a real shovel, getting real dirt on his boots. Cindy pitched in as well. The trees now stand about 4 feet. Pecans are some years off. At least commercially.

“If they’re going to pay for themselves, it’ll probably be about 10 years,” he said. “I know they’ll make some nuts, all right? Pay for themselves?”

Compton declined to give a number.

The answer, in any case, is a decade down the road. And 10 years is just a starting point.

“Pecans are a 100-year crop,” Compton said. “They last a long time.”

A lot can happen in 100 years. Water will always be an issue. Developers might make an offer for the land, if they haven’t already.

As for Compton, he’s not selling. He’s in pecans for the long haul. And for his grandkids. Come 2029, they’ll all be lining up for pecan pie.

With any luck, I’ll be right behind them.

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Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.

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