Although the pecan has a long history in North America, Georgia farmers were relative latecomers in realizing the benefits of this tree nut. By the 1950s, however, Georgia had become the country’s leading producer of pecans. As of 2014 Georgia remained the largest pecan-producing state in the nation.

Pecans
Pecans

Photograph by Judy Baxter

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. The tree typically grows to a height of 75 to 100 feet and is well adapted to Georgia’s sandy loam soil with clay subsoil. The term pecan is also applied to the tree’s edible fruit. The nuts have a rounded, oblong shape and vary in weight; a pound contains from 25 to 100 pecans.

Pecan Grove
Pecan Grove

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

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 several individual Georgia landowners near Savannah began producing and marketing pecans on a small scale (about ninety-seven total acres by 1889). By 1910 a “pecan boom” began when southwest Georgia landowners started planting what became thousands of acres of pecans. The orchards, however, were not looked upon as a commercial agricultural venture but as a real estate enterprise. Most of the acreage planted during the fifteen-year boom, from 1910 to 1925, were sold as five- to ten-acre units for homes or small farms. Most of this acreage was concentrated in Dougherty and Mitchell counties.

Miller’s Pecan Company
Miller’s Pecan Company

Courtesy of Georgia Archives.

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 2012 Georgia pecan orchards ranged in size from just a few trees to several thousand acres, with more than 109,000 acres bearing the tree nut. 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. The state produced about 45 million pounds in 2004 (with a farm gate value of more than $121 million), and 76 million pounds in 2014. Georgia pecans sold for about $2.31 per pound in 2014, and the value of the total national crop was $517 million.

Pecan Grove
Pecan Grove

Photograph by Mark Strozier

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Pecans

Pecans

Pecan nuts are the fruit of pecan trees (Carya illinoensis), a species of hickory in the walnut family. First grown commercially in Georgia during the late 1880s, pecans became one of the state's most important commodities by the early 1900s. As of 2014 Georgia produced the most pecans in the country.

Photograph by Judy Baxter

Pecan Grove

Pecan Grove

A farmer stands in a Mitchell County pecan grove in the early twentieth century. The grove was one of the first to be planted in the county. Pecans, along with cotton, peanuts, and soybeans, continue to be an important agricultural product in Mitchell County.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
mit009.

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Miller’s Pecan Company

Miller’s Pecan Company

Miller's Pecan Company, shown in 1932, was said to have been one of the largest pecan companies in the world during its time. Located in Baconton, in Mitchell County, the company cracked and shelled pecans, grading them by hand, and sold pecan tree saplings to growers.

Courtesy of Georgia Archives, Vanishing Georgia, #
mit007.

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Pecan Grove

Pecan Grove

Since the 1950s Georgia has been the top producer of pecans in the nation.

Photograph by Mark Strozier