Pecan is a member of the hickory family and native to the central and southern United States.
Its botanical name, Carya illinoinensis, means “Illinois Nut.”
For the first pecan cultivars, the Algonquin Indians, the nut was major a food source.
Tribes used it as a remedy for skin and lung problems, and in a fermented drink called Powochicora.
Pecan has a lobed shape similar to the walnut, but with a sweeter taste and softer texture.
Pecans have slightly more fat than walnuts, but less Omega 3s.
Both nuts are good sources of copper, a trace metal necessary for strong bones and immune function.
The History of SAPPA and the South African Pecan Industry:
South Africa has a long history of pecan production which gradually shifted West as the industry matured. HL Halls started the first commercial pecan Nursery in South Africa and dominated the pecan Industry for decades. The first commercial research work was done by the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, by Horticulturists like Prof Le Roux and Prof Nigel Wolstenholme. The Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops established pecan variety blocks in Nelspruit, Rodeplaat and at the Research Station in Addo. They did a lot of research work and Johan Oosthuizen was responsible for importing new pecan Varieties. In 1991 the Institute took the initiative to arrange a pecan stakeholders meeting in Nelspruit. Out of this event SAPPA was born. Chris Roux was elected as first chairman.
In 1997 Joubert Badenhorst suggested that we arrange a pecan information tour to the United States. With this tour the pecan industry in South Africa entered a new era. Suddenly we had access to this wealth of information on pecans. Directly out of the first American tour followed a visit by Dr Bruce Wood and Esteban Herrera to South Africa that benefited our growers in all the growing regions. SAPPA arranged a follow up visit by Esteban Herrera and offered the Texas Pecan Shortcourse here in our own country. In 2006 a SAPPA delegation was invited to Stahmann Farms Australia to improve our working relationship with them. A return visit was arranged, were Geoff Dodd CEO of Stahmann Farms Australia visited South Africa. In 2011 Netafim and SA Pecans organised a pecan tour to the USA and the International Pecan Conference held in Mexico. The success of the Mexican Conference gave birth to the idea of having our own South African Pecan Conference.
As predicted years ago by Prof Nigel the pecan industry has indeed shifted from East to West. More than 90% of all new plantings are now established in the drier Western Climate. As in the past SAPPA still represents the pecan grower. The focus has changed as the dynamics of the pecan industry have changed. Producers know what they want. The industry has matured. Growers start planting the right cultivars for the right reasons.
What are our future challenges?
- Political uncertainty, land reform and land redistribution remain a large challenge.
- The cost of electricity has increased dramatically.
- The focus will have to change from low labour cost, to higher productivity.
- HIV Aids is a reality in Africa.
- Water quality is under constant thread.
- Disease pressure will increase as more orchards are planted.
When visiting the States in 1997 South African producers made exceptional profits although our average yield was low. We still make exceptional profits today, despite the challenges we have to face. To stay competitive producers will have to focus on high yields of quality pecans. Mechanisation will become a must. SAPPA will have to take over the role of the Institute in Nelspruit and Rodeplaat. A close and good working relationship with our American, Mexican and Australian counterparts, proves to be the best solution to get quality information directly to our growers. We still have one of the best pecan climates, cheap irrigation land, with plenty of opportunities to expand pecan production. New plantings are bigger than ever:
|Nursery Trees Sold:||Pecan Production and Forecast:|
|2010 – 187 900||2010 – 5 747|
|2011 – 253 115||2011 – 4 847|
|2012 – 262 350||2012 – 8 200 ton (actual)|
|2013 – 240 000 (frost damage)||2013 – 6 000 ton (estimate)|
|2014 – 300 000 (forecast)||2014 – 15 000 ton (prediction)|
|2015 – 330 000 (prediction)|
The pecan is indigenous to the North American continent and endemic to fertile river valleys along the Mississippi River, down to West Texas and into Mexico. Historically, wild pecans were a great source of food for the indigenous peoples of North America. It was however only during later years when Europeans settled on the continent that formal cultivation began.
The pecan tree was originally called Hicoria pecan, derived from a Native American word “powcohicora,” an intoxicating drink made from pecans, and paccan an Algonquin word meaning any hard nut requiring a stone to crack it. After fur traders brought the nut back from Illinois in the late 17th century, the name was changed to Carva illinoinensis.
Today a large proportion of the USA crop still originates from native trees, but the quality is poor. Many of the cultivated species bear tribal names such as Choctaw, Pawnee and Wichita. The quality of the pecans from cultivated trees is generally better.
Pecans in South Africa and the Northern Cape
The first pecan trees was imported to Kwazulu-Natal around the turn of the 19 / 20th centuries. From there, trees spread mainly across the subtropical regions of South Africa (Kwazulu-Natal and Mpumalanga). It was only during later years that farmers realised that the eastern half of the summer rainfall area of South Africa was too wet and humid for the cultivation of quality kernel.
Later the plantings spread to the more arid central- and north-western regions of the country (mainly the Northern Cape Province). Due to optimal conditions, the largest plantings today exist in the Vaalharts region, with the small hamlet Tadcaster as the Pecan Capital of South Africa.
Only one pecan cultivar has been developed in South Africa, the Ukulinga. This nut is widely acknowledged as the best for the polished nut market.
The ideal location for cultivating pecans – Vaalharts
Cecil John Rhodes, diamond magnate and a premier of the Cape colony at the end of the nineteenth century, envisaged an Africa linked by a railway line from Cape Town in the South to Cairo in the North. On an exploration trip, he travelled to the Harts River Valley, bordered by the Ghaap Plateau to the West and the Marokane hills to the east. On this visit he was also struck by another great vision – a desert land watered by two rivers (the Vaal – and the Harts Rivers), which would eventually serve as South Africa’s breadbasket. Many years however had gone by before this dream materialized, and it was only near half a century later that the first farms were handed to farmers. Since then this area has changed from a semi-desert valley (classified as Savanna – Kalahari grassland) to a tree-rich oasis so green it almost overwhelms the eye. Today a total of 35898ha (88668 acres) of land is irrigated by means of these rivers (the Vaalharts irrigation scheme) with twelve different crops being commercially cultivated.
In recent years the cultivation of pecans has almost exploded in the area due to near perfect climatic and terrestrial conditions. Trees thrive in the deep alluvial soils and there is an abundance of water available. Hot summers and cold winters combined with an arid climate make very little, if any, insecticides and pesticides necessary to produce supreme quality pecans.
This area is today regarded by many leading academics, together with some of the leading players in the industry, as probably the best place on earth for growing supreme quality pecans. Even better conditions exist in Vaalharts than in North America, the native continent of pecans. Vaalharts may well develop in the nearby future into Mother Earth’s new pecan hub.
Pecans in China
The Chinese began buying pecans in 2004. Consumption skyrocketed three years later, thanks to a global walnut shortage and a record pecan harvest. Since then, consumption has more than doubled.
Grower Randy Hudson was one of the first to export to China, back in 1999. Back then, the Chinese had no word for pecan.
“They actually called it shan he tao, which was the word for being a soft-shelled hickory,” he says.
Now the nut has its own name: “pecan guo.”
“They’ll roast the pecans. They’ll crack them, and then they’ll put them into a brine solution to salt-roast them in the shell as the nut is heated,” Hudson says, “kind of a lot like salt-roasting in-the-shell peanuts.”
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