The new pecan variety Lipan - released as a trial variety last July - is a large, high-quality nut which generates excellent yields and improved disease resistance.

“The Lipan pecan should make money for growers,” according to USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) pecan breeder Tommy Thompson.

Thompson bred the Lipan variety — Carya illinoinensis — the ARS’ 29th pecan release, at the agency’s pecan breeding and genetics laboratory in College Station, Texas. Graft wood has been released to 35 nurseries around the U.S.

“The Lipan pecan will be a high contributor in commercial pecan orchards with improved yield potential and excellent resistance to pecan scab disease,” Thompson says.

Thompson discussed the Lipan variety during the 46th annual Western Pecan Growers Association Conference held in Las Cruces, N.M., this spring.

“We are very excited about Lipan,” Thompson told the pecan crowd.

Lipan produces about a 2,500-pounds-per-acre yield. About 45 Lipan pecans constitute 1 pound of inshell nuts; a lower per-pecan number than many standard varieties, including Pawnee. This means Lipan pecans are larger than Pawnee — the most popular-planted variety in the world.

The percent shell kernel rates in the low-to-mid-50 range which is better than average.

“The shelling qualities of the Lipan pecan are excellent,” Thompson told the pecan industry crowd. “Lipan shells out into complete halves which have a very good color. The Lipan variety should be very desirable for consumers for baking use, fresh consumption and other uses.”

Another positive of the Lipan tree is its strong tree structure and resistance to wind. Lipan is an excellent pollenizer for the Kanza, Wichita and Lakota pecan varieties.

Pecan scab, caused by the fungus Cladosporium caryigenum, is the most widespread and destructive pecan disease. Infected nut shucks (husks) receive the primary damage which can cause the premature fall of nuts to the ground and reduced nut size. Scab also impacts pecan leaves. The tree is weakened by repeated infections.

USDA-ARS conducts the only pecan breeding program in the world except for a small breeding facility in Georgia which breeds only for Georgia and patents all its varieties. USDA pecan varieties are not patented. After an ARS release, growers can freely propagate the new varieties.

“Lipan is a trial cultivar at this point,” Thompson said. “We think pecan producers will like it.”

All ARS-developed varieties — except for the first, Barton — are named after American Indian tribes. The Lipan tribe is an Apache tribe from the Rio Grande River and Mexico areas.

Lipan can be grown in all pecan-growing areas of the world except in extreme northern U.S. production areas. The pecans can be sold in-shell or shelled to produce a large proportion of halves and large pieces.

Lipan, an early-maturing nut, is harvested around Oct. 4. This is about 10-14 days after the Pawnee harvest (Sept. 22), and about 17 days before the Desirable variety (Oct. 21) and 20 days before the Wichita (Oct. 24).

Pawnee, Lipan’s male parent, is the first variety considered an early-harvest variety. Pawnee is currently the most popular planted variety in the world.

“In the USDA breeding program, we are extremely interested in early nut production,” Thompson explained. “A huge percent of the industry is interested in early-harvested nuts. We have good varieties now so producers can design their orchards to have all early-maturing varieties.”

Early-maturing trees generally bring higher prices due to the demand for early, new-season pecans. This has been the main driving force for the Pawnee variety along with other excellent characteristics.

Lipan has a higher kernel quality in shellability, good kernel color, plus higher scab resistance.

The USDA does not have Lipan trees for distribution. Genetic material of the release will be deposited in the National Plant Germplasm System for research purposes, including the development and commercialization of new varieties.

Thompson bred the first Lipan plant cross in 1986 from the parent varieties Cheyenne (female) and Pawnee (male).

For producers’ future pecan tree plantings, Thompson suggests planting a few Lipan trees to replace older or dead trees in an existing orchard. Avoid planting entire orchards with Lipan trees until the variety is a proven success in orchards.  

Pecan breeding process

The four-phase pecan breeding process requires about 20 years to bring a potential variety from laboratory and field testing to commercial production.

Phase one is the seed-production phase where plant crosses are created from male and female breeding parents. From 200 to 1,000 seed (clones) are developed the first year. The nuts of known parentage are planted in greenhouse containers at the ARS pecan-breeding facility in Brownwood, Texas around Christmas and then transferred to the ARS’ College Station breeding facility in April.

During phase two, clones are grown in pots under scab-infected trees for one year to screen for resistance to pecan scab disease. This process is extremely effective in weeding out lower-resistant crosses.

The trees are rated and the leaves stripped off several times. About two-thirds of the seedling trees are eliminated due to low-scab resistance.

“Lipan has good levels of scab resistance,” Thompson said. “Scab resistance is especially needed in Southeastern U.S. pecan orchards. We try to plug in genetic resistance into new varieties. The resistance lasts a long time, and pays the grower back each season through reduced or no sprays to control the disease.”

Genetic resistance to fruit scab also controls leaf scab.

“When we get resistance in the new seedlings, we know these clones will also be resistant to nut or fruit scab,” Thompson said. “This disease can be controlled in many pecan-growing areas simply by planting resistant varieties.”

In phase three, the best seedling clones are established on their own roots or budded to pollarded (hedge-trimmed) trees for eight years of testing at College Station.

Three years of nut production are needed to determine if a clone has good nut production and quality potential, excellent tree characteristics, scab and insect resistance, and other factors.

“A new pecan variety must produce better resistance than the standard varieties. If not, the variety is not released for commercial production,” Thompson said.

In phase four, superior clones enter the National Pecan Advanced Clone Testing System, or NPACTS, for 12 years. The clones are tested across the U.S. Pecan Belt from northern California in the West to the Carolinas in the East in cooperation with federal and state researchers and private growers.

After several years, the best clones are released to nurseries for propagation to sell to producers. The best or standard varieties for each particular region are planted in these tests for comparative purposes. Again if the (clones do not outperform existing standards, the clones are not released.

Lipan passed the 20 years-plus of tests. Thompson is optimistic that Lipan will become a successful variety for commercial pecan producers.

“We think Lipan will be a solid performer,” Thompson concluded. “The true test is how it will perform for growers over the next few years.” 

cblake@farmpress.com