THE PECAN INDUSTRY in Louisiana has grown steadily in recent years, but there are still major problems that must be overcome. For example, no existing pecan variety possesses the combination of traits necessary to give consistent year-to-year production. Factors such as alternate bearing, susceptibility to diseases and insects and low production have been recognized as chief drawbacks of present-day varieties.
Louisiana, like some southern states, has a tremendous number of native pecan trees which constitute a large amount of the annual production. Many of these seedling trees have survived through the years without the aid of fungicides, insecticides and modern cultural practices; in theory, they should offer individuals which will be superior to existing recommended varieties. With this in mind, the Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station and the US Department of Agriculture have undertaken a cooperative program to collect and evaluate potentially superior native seedlings.
This approach appears to offer a much more rapid method of introducing new and better varieties than would a long-term breeding program. In addition, this program should assist current breeding projects by providing new parental material.
At present, some 80 seedling selections have been collected and are being evaluated in comparison with recommended commercial varieties. The first evaluation step has involved nut characteristics such as size, shelling percentage, percent filling, oil content, ease of cracking, and kernel color and taste.
In addition, those seedlings, or clones, showing promise are being propagated and studied for disease resistance, age of bearing, productivity, consistency in year-to-year production, general adaptability and earliness of maturity. Research plans include establishment of replicated trials in at least three geographic locations in the state.
A number of varieties which have not been tested adequately under Louisiana conditions have been placed in replicated trials and their performance is being compared to that of recommended varieties.
This research is designed in an attempt to meet the immediate needs of the pecan industry for better varieties. No doubt it will be expanded in scope in the near future in order to remain in step with the industry.
To date, cooperation from individuals involved in pecan production, propagation, processing and marketing has been excellent. In addition, other local, state and national organizations, such as the Cooperative Extension Service and the USDA, have provided valuable assistance in the early stages of the program.
*Associate professor, Department of Horticulture, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.