Seed World

Going Nutty Over Pecan Research

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awards a five-year $4.3 million grant to six national institutions to advance pecan research.

“The potential outcomes of this research are huge for the pecan industry,” says Charles Rohla, Noble Foundation Center for Pecan and Specialty Agriculture manager. “This research effort shows the significant strides made toward more collaborative work with research and organizations in the industry.”

The grant will enable researchers to develop resources that can be used to identify genetic elements in pecan that control various traits, such as disease resistance, drought tolerance and nut quality.Grant recipients include The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, New Mexico State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), University of Georgia, University of Arizona and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

“Developing tools that help us identify genetic regions that control specific traits will enable the development of better pecan varieties for multiple farming regions,” adds Maria Monteros, Noble Foundation associate professor. “Being able to select the most suitable varieties for certain growing conditions is a key component for the continued success of an expanding pecan industry.”

Through the NIFA-funded research, Noble Foundation researchers will continue development of a DNA fingerprint system in pecan. The DNA fingerprint approach for pecan only requires young leaves to identify pecan varieties with desirable nut characteristics and disease resistance. The process of identifying pecan varieties previously relied on nut characteristics including size and shape, which can change depending on water availability and other environmental factors.

“The performance of a pecan tree depends on the DNA of the variety planted,” Monteros says. “Historically, growers would have to wait five to 10 years for a tree to reach reproductive maturity and produce nuts before being able to identify the variety of the tree based on the nut. Strategies to characterize pecan trees at the DNA level will provide growers with the tools to understand the genetics of their orchard and manage it for diseases, including pecan scab, based on the susceptibility or resistance of the trees.”

Pecan scab is a common disease that can demolish pecan orchards. Currently, it takes more than 20 years from start to release of a new pecan variety plus additional field research to determine specific traits, including susceptibility to pecan scab. The availability of DNA-related resources for pecan will enable identification of pecan trees resistant to pecan scab within weeks of sampling leaves from young trees.

The tools will also improve profitability and production consistency for growers by providing early ripening trees for higher market premiums and enabling less use of inputs to treat diseases.

“Researchers will be able to build on these resources as the foundation for future projects to advance pecan productivity and reduce on-farm inputs,” Monteros says.