Since pecans are native to North America, it’s no surprise that over 80% of the world’s pecans come from the United States. The U.S. produces between 250 and 300 million pounds of pecans each year. Commercially, the nuts are grown in 15 states including, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. Albany, Georgia is the “Pecan Capital of the U.S.” with over six hundred thousand pecan trees. The pecan is the state nut in Alabama and Arkansas, with the pecan tree being state tree in Texas.
The nuts are grown on trees that can grow over 100 feet tall. It can take between 7 to 10 years for a pecan tree to begin producing, but once they begin they can produce for more than 100 years.
Trees begin to flower in the spring, once pollinated they transform in to husks. The nut forms inside the green husk, and as the nut matures the husk begins to crack to indicate ready for harvest. Generally, the trees are ready to be harvested from late September through November.
The fully mature pecans will drop from the hunks to the ground. However, the farmers won’t wait for the them all to drop, they use a harvester to shake the nuts free from the trees. The nuts will then lay on the ground for 3 or 4 days to dry out. Once ready the nuts are raked into rows for harvesting machines to easily collect them.
At the processing plant, good nuts are separated from the leaves, husks, and other debris, then dried to less than 5% moisture. Finally, the nuts are cleaned, sorted, and packed. Pecans that are packed without the shells will be cracked before packing.
History of the Pecan
Native Americans ate wild pecans as well as used the leaves and bark from the trees for medicinal uses. The first pecan trees were planted in Long Island, New York in 1772. In 1846 the first pecan trees were grafted successfully at the Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana by a slave named Antoine. Antoine’s pecans made it to the World Fair and became the first popularized variety, thus kicking off the pecan industry.