Texas Pecans

PecansAg Biz News Column
Chad Gulley
County Extension Agent –Ag/NR
Smith County



The pecan is the state tree of Texas.  Pecan trees are important to the state’s history.  Specialist with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension service estimate that native and improved pecans are grown commercially on about 70,000 acres in Texas.  Pecans are rich in vitamins, contain high levels of antioxidants, and have been proven to help correct blood cholesterol profiles.

A pecan enterprise can be successful if you do your homework.  Pecan trees prefer a deep, well-drained soil. Be sure to perform a soil test on the property you intend on planting the orchard.  The pH of the soil is important for pecan production.   Nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus and zinc may be needed at various levels throughout the various stages of production.  The soil test will determine what levels are needed for the orchard for that specific site.

When deciding on getting into the pecan business, decisions on orchard size include cash flow, equipment costs, and water availability.  Growers should have a cash flow plan for the 5 to 7 year establishment phase.  Starting a pecan orchard requires land, equipment, and a water system.

Equipment costs will vary.  Small orchards may rely on harvesting most of the pecans by hand while larger operations may require specialized equipment.  Commercial orchards need equipment like tractors, shakers, harvesters, cleaners, and airblast tree sprayers.

Water availability and quality is another important factor to a successful venture.  Mature pecan trees need 1 to 2 inches of water per acre per week during the hottest times of the growing season.  Setting up the proper irrigation system for your orchard may require some assistance from professionals.  Rainfall may be the primary source of water for some growers but supplemental water may be needed in the hot dry parts of summer for the orchard.

Pecan trees are pollinated by the wind.  The pollen is blown from male flowers called catkins to female flowers called nutlets.  For most varieties, the pollen is not dispersed at the same time that the nutlets become receptive.  To overcome this problem, each pecan orchard should contain two flowering types.  Type I or protandrous pecans, are those in which the catkins appear first.  Type II or protogynous pecans, are those in which the female nutlets become receptive before the catkins begin to shed pollen.

Examples of pecan varieties for East Texas include Apalachee (I), Caddo (I), Desirable (I), Lipan (I), Mandan (I), Oconee (I), Pawnee (I), Prilop (I), Elliott (II), Forkert (II), Kanza (II), and Lakota (II).

Pecan trees are grown in many setting in Texas.  Pecan trees are grown in woodlands, parks, urban greenbelts, courthouse lawns, and in thousands of home landscapes.  Improved pecan varieties are also called papershell pecans because of their thinner shell.  Improved varieties are typically large and long lived trees.  Improved varieties may also bear larger crops than native varieties and can be more disease and insect resistant.

A well-managed orchard on good sites can produce 1,000 to 2,000 pounds of pecans per acre per year.  Pecan production can be profitable when market prices are favorable and crop failures are avoided.  There are annual operating costs to producing pecan.  Developing a management plan for the orchard is important to help keep up with costs.

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