Although the pecan has a long history in North America, Georgia farmers were relative
Pecan (Carya illinoensis) is a common name for a species of hickory in the walnut (Juglandaceae) family. According to archaeological and historical evidence, Asian species of the hickory tree arrived in North America before the first humans crossed the Bering Strait from Asia about 10,000 B.C. Other species are native to the Mississippi River valley.
While there may have been wild pecans in some of Georgia's river valleys, the nuts are generally regarded as nonnative to the state, and their value as a potential cultivated crop was not recognized until the late nineteenth century. By that time landowners began to regard pecans, long a staple of wild native trees from Iowa and Indiana to Texas and Mexico, as a commercial crop. Commercialization of pecans allowed the nut crop to expand into a number of southeastern states (including Georgia) and to New Mexico and California.
In the late 1800s
Those early-twentieth-century plantations consistently remain the center of Georgia's pecan-producing counties today. Modern orchards with plantings of scientifically improved pecan varieties now yield what are called "papershell" pecans, so named because the nuts are easy to crack and shell.
By the 1920s Georgia was producing 2.5 million pounds of pecans. As of 2006 Georgia pecan orchards range in size from just a few trees to several thousand acres, with more than 142,500 acres planted. Georgia is also fortunate to have an early harvest date compared to other pecan-producing areas, which often results in good prices for Georgia growers. They produced about 45 million pounds in 2004 and 70 million pounds in 2005. The farm-gate value for the crop in 2004 was more than $121 million.
Ray E. Worley and Ben Mullinex, "Pecan Cultivar Performance at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station, 1921-1994," Research Bulletin 426, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Athens, Georgia, 1997.
Barry W. Jones, University of Georgia
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.