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Crop of the Week: Pecans
• The pecan (Carya illinoinensis) is a species of hickory, native to south-central North America. Pecans are the only tree nut that is truly native to the United States. Today, the U.S. produces about 80 percent of the world's pecan crop.
• Pecans were first planted in Yuma back in the early 1900s in fields in and around the Yuma Valley. With yields approaching three times what was originally expected, the Yuma area was known as a thriving pecan producing region for almost 50 years. With the focus now on vegetable production, the pecan acreage in the county has dropped to below 100 acres but many pecan trees still dot the area. In 2009, there were 15,000 acres of pecans in Arizona.
• Pecans are produced on large deciduous trees, growing from 60 to 120 feet in height with a trunk up to 5 feet in diameter. The pecan blooms in the spring and its flowers are wind-pollinated. Pecans are encased in a broad, dark brown shell that splits off in four sections at maturity to release the thin-shelled nut.
• Every pecan pie uses 1/2 to 3/4 a pound of pecans. It takes about 310 pecan halves to fill a 1-pound bag, so about 78 pecans are used in every pecan pie.
• Pecans are one of the largest fruit-bearing trees. One irrigated, managed acre of pecan trees will produce about 1,000 pounds of pecans. Before a shelled pecan is ready to be sold, it must first be cleaned, sized, sterilized, cracked and finally, shelled.
• Pecans can be frozen and refrozen for at least two years without loss of flavor or texture.
• More than 500 varieties of pecans exist today. Over 1,000 cultivars have been released over the history of pecan culture. Many are named for Native American Indian tribes, including Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Choctaw and Shawnee.
• One of America's favorite nuts, pecans are a good source of oleic acid, vitamin B1, magnesium, protein and fiber.
• Pecans can help lower total blood cholesterol and combat heart disease and are believed to be helpful in fighting some cancers. According to Frank Sacks of Harvard Medical School, pecans contain phytochemicals that make them protective against cancers of the colon, stomach and rectum. According to the Iowa Women's Health Study in 2003, women were 60 percent less likely to have heart trouble if they ate nuts more than twice a week. According to research funded by the International Nut Council, Washington, D.C., nuts have been proven to be effective for diabetics, especially those placed on low-fat diets.
• Nuts are a part of most universally accepted balanced diets, such as the “Mediterranean Diet,” which includes fish, poultry, vegetables, fresh and dried fruit, nuts, grains, olives and olive oil.
• Astronauts took pecans to the moon in two Apollo space missions. Pecan wood is used in agricultural implements, baseball bats, hammer handles, furniture, wall paneling, flooring, religious carvings and firewood. In 1995, pecan wood was selected by the Atlanta Committee to make the handles of the torches for the 1996 Olympic Games.
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.