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U.S. pecan industry targets increased consumption, 'Tier One’ respect

Pecan leaders
Arizona Pecan Growers Association leadership includes from left - President Harold Payne, Vice-President Allen Brandt, Secretary-Treasurer Mike Kilby; plus Jim Walworth, Mike Harvey Sr., Mark Cook, Jared Allred, and Josh Sherman.
“We need to shift the view of pecans beyond pecan pie”

With a federal marketing order in place to help increase consumption, the U.S. pecan industry is working harder to convince consumers that the healthy nut taste good in more than a delicious pie at Thanksgiving.

“We need to shift the view of pecans beyond pecan pie,” said Janet Helm of the Weber Shandwick ad agency which markets pecans on behalf of the American Pecan Council (APC). “We need to shift the view of pecans and get people to enjoy them all year long.”

Pecan consumption, production practices, and regulatory issues were the backbone of the 2017 Arizona Pecan Growers Association (APGA) annual meeting held in August at Tucson. Several speakers touted that pecans deserve a place on consumers’ plates at home and for snacking in between.

The pecan is a native U.S. nut and competes for valuable grocery store shelf space with almonds, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, and other nuts.

Helm explained, “We (pecan industry) need to build a brand on the American pecan and differentiate it from other nuts. We need to be competitive and go after those Tier One nuts.”

Peanuts win

Helm shared the results of a consumer survey of about 1,500 nut consumers asked which nut comes to their mind first. Number one was the peanut followed by the almond, cashew, and walnut.

Helping financially power pro-pecan messaging today is the new pecan grower-funded federal marketing order approved last year designed to increase pecan consumption domestically. Under the order, growers shell out three cents per in-shell pound for improved pecan varieties and two cents per in-shell pound for native varieties or substandard nuts.

Assessments are retroactive to Oct. 1, 2016. The funding helped recently create the APC, Acting Executive Director Byron Gossett told the crowd of about 150 Southwest pecan growers and industry representatives.

“Our mandate from the industry is to work on consumer demand,” said Gossett who noted APC funds mostly target increased domestic pecan consumption, plus some production research.

The U.S. Pecan Growers Council promotes pecan consumption globally.

Pecan fertilization

On the production front, University of Arizona (UA) Extension Soil Specialist Jim Walworth discussed a decade’s work on managing zinc nutrient deficiencies in semi-arid pecan-growing areas. Zinc is critical to plants to enable photosynthesis.

Plant zinc deficiency can reduce above-ground tree growth, plus decrease yield in bearing trees.

The primary zinc treatment in pecan orchards is a zinc foliar spray to leaves. Such treatments increase production costs depending on the number of needed applications in the orchard. Plus, the sprays have limited mobility since the zinc applied to the leaves never makes it to the branches, stems, roots, or trunk.

The decade-long UA research has generated the following recommendations from Walworth:

1 – Don’t plant a young tree without putting Zn-EDTA in the hole first. The application can satisfy at least two years of zinc nutrition and possibly into the third year;

2 – Zn-EDTA delivered through pressurized irrigation systems has shown good results. Walworth recommends fertigating 2-4 gallons per acre in young trees and up to 16 gallons per acre in mature trees; and

3 – For well-washed leaves, 30 parts per million or above of zinc appears to be an adequate amount.

Contributors to Walworth’s pecan research include the APGA, Fertizona, the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s (ADA) specialty crops grant program, and the grower-cooperator Farmers Investment Company or FICO.  

Pest control

John Caravetta, ADA associate director, said Arizona tree nut production (pecan and pistachio) is a significant component of the state’s agricultural economy that’s expanding rapidly, and that it’s important to the state’s agricultural diversification.

He hinted about an expected projection that would upgrade the value of Arizona agriculture to a $20-plus billion contributor to the state’s economy. The current reported figure is a smidgeon over $17 billion.

Caravetta warned the pecan crowd that proposed reductions in federal farm bill funding to Arizona for pest trapping programs could shift more costs from the feds to the state.

In Arizona, pest trapping has increased for the pecan nut casebearer, hickory shuckworm, and pecan weevil. The pests have not been found in the state’s pecan orchards but are found in some other pecan-growing states.

The ADA leader says pest trapping is a high department priority.

“We are ready to respond to pest threats. The challenge will be having the resources to respond.”

Southwest pecan average

One estimate at the pecan meeting placed Arizona’s 2015 pecan acreage at about 19,800 acres and a 2017 estimate at 25,000 acres this year – about a 20 percent increase in two years.

Georgia and New Mexico pecan production was estimated at about 36,000 and 18,800 acres respectively in 2015.

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