The right location, cultivar, land preparation and cultivation programme are crucial to ensure the best yields, profits, and sustainability of your pecan nut operation. Pecan trees like dry conditions, but they also require wet roots, and prefer short, cold winters and long, hot summers.
Pecan trees need 285 days a year for growing, with warm nights. The trees can handle frost, as the low temperature ensures the tree goes into complete dormancy, which ensures even growth in spring. Production in drier areas are around three to five t/ha. These areas also tend to produce bigger nuts, which result in higher prices. The average nut-in-shell (NIS) price paid to farmers is $4,5/kg to $5,3/kg, with larger nuts from the hotter, drier regions fetching above $5,3/kg.
While pecan trees can grow in shallow soil, it should be between at least 100 cm and 150 cm deep for profitable commercial production. Pecans are normally planted 10 m x 10 m apart, resulting in 100 trees/ha. As the trees are widely spaced, finding enough land for an economic unit is a challenge. Some farmers plant at a higher density initially, and then thin out once the trees have reached full maturity, which allows greater yields in the years before the trees reach full maturity.
However, the cost involved with plant ing the extra trees and then later removing them does not make this a viable option. Alternate bearing is a technique to maximize yields in difficult seasons. It is a given with fruit trees. With proper management, extreme differences in yield from one year to the next can be reduced. This involves reducing the yield in an ‘on’ year so that the tree has extra reserves for an ‘off’ year.
In the case of fertiliser, soil and leaf analysis could help farmers determine what their trees need. The presence of nitrogen and phosphates are important on these analyses. Phosphates are essential to promote root growth and stimulate the plant to produce active root hairs, which eventually become feeder roots. Zinc is also essential to pecan trees and spraying five to six times per season in the night or early morning is essential.
Pests and diseases
High-humidity areas are susceptible to scab, therefore farmers in such areas plantshould be on the alert and employ their sprayers timeously. A crop protection programme is crucial to ensure maximum growth and crop health. The protection programme is different for every region.
Harvesting takes place from May to July. Pecans are shaken off the trees mechanically and collected by labourers. Farms are now starting to mechanise, but the cost of the machinery is still quite high. However, as mechanisation increases in the industry, economies of scale will make the machines cheaper to import.
Southern African pecans are quite popular in China because our harvest time is between May and July. While America’s harvest comes in between November and January, China’s festival days and highest use is in the region of October to November. That gives Southern Africa the benefit of delivering fresh pecans to Chinese markets during the peak consumption period.
South Africa exports 80% of its crop NIS (nut-in-shell). Another 10% is processed and exported as kernels, while the remaining 10% is processed for the local market. NIS is preferred by farmers as they do not have to pay for processing costs.
The pecan price is expected to increase in the future. Global production is expected to increase drastically in the next five to ten years due to the growth in plantings and the fact that Russia and India are also becoming potential markets. The Americans have spent a lot on expanding the market for pecans, which is something we have to do here, as well as to ensure we have demand for the increased supply.
Source your certified pecan trees from Orion Irresistible Pecans and Nursery, based in South Africa in the Free State province between Wesselsbron and Bothaville. Contact Hannes van Zyl at +27(0)82-572-5635 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com. Visit their website at www.orionirresistiblepecans.co.za