California’s pecan growers have quit trying to grow and process pecans like they do in the major U.S. pecan producing areas. The result has been higher yielding California orchards and a superior quality pecan that is in big demand. Last year it was worth almost 30 cents per pound more than the average U.S. pecan price.

Pecans have been grown in California for decades. However, compared to the big three California orchard nut crops -- almonds, walnuts and pistachios — producers have passed on pecans because until now yields have not produced economic returns equal to the major tree nut crops.

That has changed and the fledgling California Pecan Growers Association is working hard to tell the new story of California pecans to get more growers into the business and increase the supply for a demanding marketplace. Last year the association presented its case to tree nut producers in the Central Valley to hopefully entice new pecan orchard plantings.

July 14 meeting

This year the association will tell its story in the Sacramento Valley July 14 when it holds its annual meeting in Chico, Calif., at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. The conference and information seminar will be followed the next day by a tour of young and old pecan orchard plantings in the Sacramento Valley.

The association meeting on July 14 will begin at 2 p.m. with the following presentations scheduled:

-- Results of Temik verses Admire Study Conducted at Blain Farms, Tulare County, Calif.; John L. Perry Jr., market specialist, Bayer CropScience.

-- Evaluating Soil and Irrigation Water Suitable For Prospective Pecan Orchards, Allan Fulton / U.C. farm advisor, Red Bluff

-- 2005 Evaluation of Pecan Pollinators in Northern California, Bill Olson U.C. farm advisor, emeritus.

-- Common Mistakes Made In Pecan Orchard Establishment and Management, Bruce Woods, horticulturist, USDA-ARS, Byron, Ga.

-- Pecan Cultivars for the Western U.S., Tommy Thompson, research geneticist, USDA-ARS, Somerville Texas.

-- Profitability of Specific Pecan Varieties, Brian Blain/ Blain Farms, Tulare County, Calif.

Visit www.californiapecangrowers.org for registration information.

The orchard tour on July 15 will feature stops at five different farms to look at orchards ranging in age from 28 years to first leaf. The tour will also stop at a demonstration plot where Admire was shanked in to control aphids.

Honeydew deposits

Research by retired UC farm advisor Steve Sibbett that late season aphid honeydew deposits were reducing yields of a crop harvested in late fall by reducing photosynthesis is one reason for the yield breakthrough. The association has aggressively pursued aphid control strategies since Sibbett’s findings were released.

Garry Vance, Tehama County pecan grower and president of the association said California pecan producers have been told for years by producers in other U.S. pecan growing areas to "live with late season aphids." The Sibbett research has proven the deposits were reducing yields by reducing photosynthesis.

Vance said four years ago the association was successful in winning a 24C registration for Temik to control aphids.

"Two years ago we worked with John Perry of Bayer in getting a 24C for Admire shanked into the orchards and that has really made a difference," said Vance. Most California pecan orchards are flood irrigated, said Vance, explaining why Admire must be shanked into an orchard to be effective.

"Now pecan growers in other parts of the country are paying attention to what we are doing in California," added Vance. This has significantly increased yields, resulting in returns comparable to California walnut production.

Vance said return on pecans has "increased significantly over what it was six years ago since we quit trying to grow pecans like they do elsewhere and started growing pecans in California like we grow other tree crops," said Vance. "There is a different mentality in California where we can get 2,800 pounds per acre verses in places like Georgia where they get 600 pounds. There are more resources available to California pecan growers than elsewhere."

3,000 acres

There are only about 3,000 acres of pecans in California, but Vance is hopeful that will grow significantly in the next few years.

The demand for the product is there, he said.

"People now specify that they want California pecans, and we can market all we can get at good prices," Vance said.

The quality is no accident. California pecan growers handle their crop differently than other areas.

"California pecans do not have the flaws like other states because most of California pecans are shaken from the tree and taken to the dehydrator the same day. This results in a lighter colored nut that consumers want. It is a fresher product with a longer shelf life than pecans from other areas," said Vance.

Vance said there is a good market for pecans now. The pipeline is empty, partly because of hurricane damage last season to pecan orchards crops in Gulf Coast states.

This shortage resulted in an all-time high U.S. average price of $1.67 per pound for 2004 pecans. California pecans brought an average of $1.92 per pound.

Vance said it takers longer for pecans to reach economic production levels than almonds and the initial planting costs are higher because trees are more expensive. However, the trees produce economically viable yields much longer than almonds. Pecan orchards can remain productive for up to 50 years.

"As a U.S. industry, the lack of discipline in marketing is another big disadvantage. This is why we are developing a market for California pecans as superior to pecans from other areas of the U.S.," added Vance.

Vance said interest is growing in producing pecans.

e-mail:hcline@primediabusiness.com