You may enjoy receiving those packaged pecans as a gift during the holiday season. Or maybe it’s that freshly baked pecan pie that makes your mouth water.
The pecan is one of the most nutritious nuts out there, and pecan production may improve thanks to a $4.4 million grant awarded to New Mexico State University. The grant was funded as part of the Specialty Crop Research Initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
NMSU’s allotment was part of $36.5 million awarded for research and extension to support American farmers. Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the grant awards earlier this month.
NMSU Research Associate Professor Jennifer Randall submitted the grant application in March.
“When I received the phone call, I was very, very excited,” Randall said. “More people are finding out about the grant every day, and the response has been very positive. Everyone is thrilled that NMSU is leading the work on this project.”
A researcher in the Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Randall is the lead project investigator for the grant. The start date is Sept. 1, and the end date is Aug. 31, 2021.
Essentially, the goal is to breed more productive pecan trees that will lead to improved production of pecans.
Two main challenges with growing pecan trees are disease and high levels of salt in water.
“We’re going to target four trees that have very different traits, and we’re going to look at their genomes,” Randall said. “We’re going to start pin-pointing genes that are important for disease resistance and salinity tolerance. We’re also going to look at flowering and tree architecture.”
One tool that will be used is pecan rootstock cloning, a method developed by Randall. By using this method, rootstock best suited for a specific orchard area could be cloned for ideal growing conditions.
Although pecan is an international crop, Randall is looking forward to what the grant will help achieve in the United States.
“I think this will help our U.S. growers, as pecan is grown in 25 states,” she said. “It’s one of our native trees to North America, and there’s a lot of genetic diversity that has not been described, and growers are not yet reaping the full benefits. Although pecan has been grown as an industry for over 100 years, it’s still in its infancy as far as a crop goes, as the trees differ very little from native pecan trees. There’s a lot of room for improvement that will help growers.”
The timing of the grant couldn’t be better.
In May, the USDA announced that producers passed a Federal Marketing Order for pecans. The FMO is a self-help program funded by pecan revenue and administered by pecan stakeholders for the benefit of the industry and consumers.
Collaborating with NMSU on the research project will be the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology; USDA in Texas, Georgia and Louisiana; the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation; and the University of Arizona.
Much of the grant funding will be used for students, postdoctoral researchers, sequencing services, research and extension outreach. A website dedicated to pecan research will be available to inform growers about the advancements and new tools that will assist them in their farming practices.
“The grant will allow us to train our students and post-docs, who are our leaders for tomorrow, while accomplishing the research at the same time,” Randall said. “And hopefully we’ll have a new generation of plant scientists that will keep going.”
Author: Kristie Garcia – NMSU