More than 75 percent of the world's pecan crop is produced in the United States, and researchers and Extension specialists from 11 land-grant universities are working together to ensure that pests don't affect crop yield.
The project, titled S-1049 Integrated Management of Pecan Arthropod Pests in the Southern U.S., is a multistate research project that helps pecan growers learn more about affordable, environmentally friendly, and sustainable pecan pest management options. The project was the 2014 Southern Region nominee for the Experiment Station Section Excellence in Multistate Research Award and was recently selected as the region's 2015 nominee.
"Since 1972, S-1049 members have conducted experiments on over 300 acres of test fields across the country and collaborated with horticulturists and plant pathologists to develop best production practices to improve pecan nut quality and yields. This field data is critical to developing pest monitoring protocols and tools, like traps, treatments, and biological control options," said Dr. Donn Johnson, former chair of S-1049 and Entomology Professor at the University of Arkansas.
Pests that are not managed can severely damage harvests of marketable nuts. For instance, in Arkansas, the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, administered through the Arkansas Agriculture Department, funded S-1049 members so that they could issue a survey to pecan growers and visit 16 pecan groves.
The survey and site visits enabled the members to identify production problems that required additional research. The S-1049 researchers noted that insects and disease in unmanaged groves caused more than 30% nut damage. However, several groves were following pest management recommendations and had reduced damage to nuts to less than 5%.
Using fewer but more effective and timely pest control treatments cuts growers' costs and reduces environmental as well as human health risks. In Texas, about 50% of pecan farmers have adopted the technology developed and recommended by S-1049 members. As a result, pesticide usage is about 192,000 kilograms per year less than in 1980 with a cost savings of $4.4 million per year for these producers.
In addition, members of S-1049 train and educate pecan farmers, producers, and organizations about pecan production, pecan pest biology and pest management options. The project also includes a website where those interested and invested in the pecan industry can access management and assessment tools and information, including a real-time Pecan Nut Casebearer Risk Map.
"This map includes real-time trap data from approximately 100 pecan groves in the Southern Region. It's a useful tool that helps growers identify when to scout for egg hatch and decide if and when to apply treatments or biological control options," said Dr. Marvin Harris, member of S-1049 and Entomology Emeritus Professor at Texas A&M University.
Through these efforts, the S-1049 project helps to ensure that there is a continued availability of pecans, which have a number of human health benefits. Nuts, such as pecans, are low in sodium and full of fiber and healthy fats. Nut consumption may help with weight management and to help reduce the risk high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes.
The 11 participating land-grant institutions include:
•Kansas State University
•Louisiana State University
•New Mexico State University
•Oklahoma State University
•Texas A&M University
•Texas A&M AgriLife
•University of Arkansas
•University of Florida
•University of Georgia
•University of Missouri