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Pecan Oil Treasure D By Melanie Wilderman


an Hamilton bought Tri-Agri Farm Center in Coleman, Okla., in 1981 to supply dairy feed to local farmers. But the former aeronau- tical engineer, turned bricklayer, turned agriculture businessman, has pivoted a few times in life, and his sons have followed suit.


Currently customers know Tri-Agri for pecans, but that wasn’t always the case. Beyond dairy feed, peanuts had become a staple of southern-Oklaho- ma operation in the ‘90s, but the 1996 U.S. Farm Bill shifted rules for peanut growers, eliminating a minimum national poundage requirement, and Tri- Agri felt that reduction harshly. So around 1999 it was time to pivot again, and this pivot led to pecans. The Hamiltons, longtime Southeastern Electric Cooperative members, run a family business. Two of Hamiltons’ fi ve children, Mark and Paul, work at Tri-Agri and are integral to its current innovations. “We started learning and adapting and made our own cleaning system, and we made it work really well,” Mark Hamilton said, of the shift to pecans. Coming in from Oklahoma and North Texas farmers, the pecans currently


processed through Tri-Agri represent around 25 percent of the annual Oklahoma crop. And with their equipment and small, yet effi cient 12 to 15 person staff, they can clean up to 100,000 pounds daily. “A farmer’s life is limited by time in the fi eld. We try to do everything we can to make this process fast and effective for our famers, so they can get back to it,” Mark said. However, Tri-Agri could have likely been out of the pecan game after 2012 when the price plummeted to its lowest point in recent history—40 cents per pound, compared to the current $1.60 - $1.70 per pound. Mark started looking into pecan oil based on the success of other nut oils. At the time, only one other manufacturer existed in the Unites States and only three sellers. “I don’t like other people making my stuff,” Mark said, so if Tri-Agri was going to sell pecan oil, they would be making it themselves. Mark, a former science and math teacher, spent about six months research- ing all that would go into the production, marketing and selling of pecan


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oil, and he enrolled in food quality classes at Oklahoma State University. After intense studying, upgrading the facility for food production, buying


equipment, adjusting equipment and fi nally landing on a seven-step process for the most perfect oil possible, Achukma Pecan Oil was on the shelves and ready for sale. “Achukma,” a Choctaw word with various meanings such as “natural,” “pure” and “delicious,” speaks both to the Hamiltons’ Native American heritage and what they believe their products represent. The expeller-style oil press, used for the cold press process to take the pecan successfully from a solid nut to high-quality oil, is one of only four of its kind in the 50 states. About the size of a riding lawn mower, the shiny metal press stands unassuming in the corner of the Tri-Agri “oil room.” When cold pressing for oil, Mark explained a key element to product quality requires keeping the temperature below 120 degrees. Tri-Agri keeps the temperature between 93 and 103 degrees. Aside from the lower tempera- ture, and a few exclusive secrets Mark held to himself behind a playful mustached smile, keeping the oil unrefi ned is key to its golden color, purity and smooth fl avor. Many other nut oil manufacturers refi ne their products, stripping them of key nutrients and other health benefi ts in the process, he said. Pecans are higher in oil content than many nuts, which actually increases


diffi culty in extraction, as standard tactics produce more of a mush than pure oil. With the Tri-Agri process, Mark said they typically yield 64 to 66 percent of raw product weight converted to oil compared to 42 to 54 percent of his competitors. John Berry, Tri-Agri’s oil press operator, said Mark’s can-do American attitude and the Hamiltons’ overall ethics drive the company’s success. “Mark is a highly intelligent, energetic and driven individual. And the family wants want to do right by its customers,” Berry said. From the “grading room” where Mark’s wife, Lori, meticulously evaluates pecans, rating them based on size, quality, and quality within the size, to the bottling process where any “cloudiness” means that bottle will not go to the shelf, the Tri-Agri employees work to produce the best product and educate themselves to back up that claim for their growers and customers. In the past six months, Mark has seen an increased percentage of customer return with larger purchase volume. Though most sales still come from


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