It might be hard to find something more southern than a pecan tree. Pecan pie would be on the menu for my last meal. And there is the ongoing debate about how to pronounce the word ‘pecan.’ Is it pee-can or pi-kahn. My Evans County agriculture agent friend Savannah Tanner says when referring to how to pronounce pecan, “Have you ever heard anyone call it a trash kahn?’ Good point. My dad’s pecan-farming friend Mr. Pennington from Jefferson County stated it is a pee-can on the tree and a pi-kahn on the way to market. Either way, the pecan tree is a huge part of Georgia’s agriculture.
Carya illinoinensis is the botanical name and this tree is a native plant to the United States and on down into Mexico. A pecan is actually a member of the hickory family. The name “pecan” is a Native American word of Algonquin origin that was used to describe “all nuts requiring a stone to crack.” I wonder how they pronounced pecan.
In 2014, worldwide pecan production was about 352 million pounds and the United States did 75 percent of that total, with Mexico being second in production at 20 percent. According to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, Georgia produced 76 million pounds, which made Georgia the No. 1 producer in the U.S. Mexico produces 70.6 million pounds, which leaves Georgia as the No. 1 producer of pecans in the world. We’re No. 1. We’re No. 1. We’re No. 1.
According to the Farm Gate Value Report published by the University of Georgia, Georgia has 165,000 acres planted for pecan production. Dougherty County is our largest producer at 16,500 acres of pecans grown, while Mitchell County is a close second with 16,100 acres of pecans in production.
Pecan trees are commonly found surrounding both urban and rural dwellings throughout Georgia. Pecans are recommended for home planting in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, but are not recommended for the north Georgia mountains. They can enhance the environment and provide additional income from the sale of nuts. When that mean Irma came through last week, she blew about 50 percent of the nuts off the trees throughout the state. Those leftover nuts are going to be a lot more valuable this year if you still have some to harvest.
When planted, a pecan grown from seed (called a “seedling”) does not produce a tree identical to its parent. In fact, each seedling tree is unique and will have extremely variable nut quality. Therefore, to propagate a tree of a given cultivar, buds or shoots from the parent tree must be grafted onto seedling rootstock.
Some pecan cultivars are not profitable because of their susceptibility to insect pests and diseases such as pecan scab. Many seedling trees and cultivars also produce inferior nuts that may be unsuitable for sale or consumption. In order to successfully produce pecans in a home orchard, low-input management is a must.
Selecting a cultivar or variety is the most important decision for successfully growing pecans. There are numerous pecan varieties from which to choose, but only a few are suitable for yard-tree planting because many home orchardists are unable to adequately apply pesticides. Destructive diseases and insect pests are difficult to manage without the aid of costly chemical pesticides and an “airblast” pecan tree sprayer. Fortunately, there are scab-resistant cultivars that can produce quality pecan kernels. Commonly found cultivars currently recommended for yard-tree plantings include Elliott, Excel, Gloria Grande and Sumner. These cultivars are readily obtained from most pecan tree nurseries that serve the southeastern United States. To ensure good pollination, plant at least two varieties. This is especially important for areas with few surrounding pecan trees.
Harvesting the nuts as soon as they mature is essential for preventing nut loss due to predation and deterioration, and ensures better quality. One of the quickest ways to lose nut quality is to let them lie on wet ground. Harvest early and store nuts in a clean, dry place. And when you cook a pee-can pie, make sure to save me a slice.
Reach Campbell Vaughn, the UGA Agriculture and Natural Resource agent for Richmond County, by e-mailing email@example.com.