ARS to Release Early-Maturing Pecan
O'Brien July 21, 2009
When it comes to pecans, timing is crucial. Breeders and retailers
prefer pecans that mature quickly because the earlier they hit store shelves
each fall, the better they sell.
An Agricultural Research Service
(ARS) variety known as Pawnee has been a top seller since its release in 1984
because it is ready for sale by the first part of October, according to
E. Thompson, an ARS pecan breeder and geneticist at the agency's
Germplasm Research Unit in College Station, Texas.
But Thompson is releasing a new cultivar this spring that he is
confident will beat Pawnee to market each year. Mandan, one of two new pecan
cultivars, is bred to mature about a week earlier than Pawnee.
Thompson also is releasing Apalachee, a small pecan bred for baking
and manufacturing. But he expects Mandan to be more widely distributed because
of its early maturity, nut size and ability to resist scab disease, a fungal
pathogen that blackens nuts and can severely damage trees. Growers in Georgia
sometimes spray fungicides up to 15 times a year to control scab disease.
ARS has released 28 pecan varieties since 1953, and since 1955 has
named them all for Native American tribes, a nod to the nut's status as a North
American native, according to Thompson. Pecans grow from Texas and Mexico north
to Illinois and east to Georgia, and sales generate $500 million each year.
The new releases are the result of intensive testing that began in the
1980s, when clones were evaluated in greenhouses and planted in orchards for 10
years of screening. Selections that performed best were planted in orchards
throughout the Pecan Belt for further evaluations.
In keeping with ARS policies that allow public access to its germplasm
and cultivars, Thompson is distributing graftwood free to nurseries and
breeders. It usually takes two to three years for nurseries to develop trees
ready for sale to homeowners and commercial growers.
ARS is the principal intramural scientific research agency in the
U.S. Department of