Peanuts and Pecans

There is a growing appetite for Oklahoma pecans, both at home and abroad.

Though pecans may not rank in the top 10 in Oklahoma’s agricultural production yet, the tree nut is gaining notice as research reveals what a valuable crop it is from both an economic and nutritional standpoint.

According to Dr. Charles Rohla of the Noble Foundation, the pecan may be the most eye-opening crop in the land.

“There is a lot of interest in pecans,” says Rohla, manager for the Center for Pecans and Special Crops at the research facility in Ardmore. “It’s one of the faster-growing industries, not just in Oklahoma but in the South.”

Oklahoma’s pecan industry includes not only the growers whose orchards are filled with the native and improved variety trees, but also those involved in the handling, processing and marketing of pecans.

And the industry is seeing an uptick in exports, particularly to China. In February 2015, for instance, the Waterfall Creek Pecan Farm near Idabel shipped two large containers of pecans to China.

A boon for all involved in pecans is research showing the health benefits of the crop. Research is also identifying better management techniques, which will help grow the industry.

“Even though pecans have been around for a very long time – several hundred years – the majority of the production research has really been in the last 30 years, with most of that in the last 20,” Rohla says. “There’s a lot of stuff, management-wise, we still don’t know about pecans.

“The exciting thing for the Noble Foundation is we’re looking at new technologies that have been used on other crops. Here, we actually have a pecan team that’s made up of forage and plant biology scientists.”

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Oklahoma pecan [INFOGRAPHIC]

Improved Varieties

Oklahoma typically ranks among the leading five states each year in production, along with the top producer, Georgia, as well as New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. The Sooner State has about 114,000 acres of pecan trees, at last count, with 85 percent of those being native trees.

“We are seeing a trend where more improved varieties are being planted,” Rohla says. “Right now, (the improved varieties) are about 15 percent of our production, but I’d say in the next five to 10 years, it will probably be closer to 30 percent.”

Chester Bench, who has been growing pecans in Hugo for approximately 15 years, has recently started harvesting nuts from improved varieties. He has 4,000 improved trees that he planted eight years ago, in addition to 3,000 native trees.

“It’s a bigger pecan with a thin shell, real pretty and bright with good color,” Bench says of the improved variety. “A lot of the manufacturing and food-processing companies like them for decoration, as well as content. It’s most popular right now and, therefore, bringing the best price.”

pecan oil

Mark Hamilton and his wife Laurie check the machinery they use to produce the cold-pressed, unrefined Achukma Pecan Oil.

Oil Has Health Benefits

Pecans are touted as offering health benefits, and that’s also true of the oil made from the nuts.

“Pecan oil has more benefits to it than any other natural oil that’s out there,” says Mark Hamilton, who with his family owns a company that processes pecan oil. “It’s lower in saturated fat than all the other nut oils, and it’s really high in polyunsaturated fats. There are antioxidants in the oil, plus omega 3-6-9.”

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The Hamiltons’ company, Native American Specialty Products, produces a cold-pressed and unrefined pecan oil known as Achukma.

“It is a Choctaw word that means pure, natural, good and delicious,” Hamilton says. “It’s a word of many meanings, and all of them apply to what we try to promote in our product.”

Oklahoma pecan [INFOGRAPHIC]

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