Defining Our Production Region

Final Report for FNC08-725

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2008: $14,900.42
Projected End Date: 12/31/2010
Region: North Central
State: Kansas
Project Coordinator:
Joseph Wilson
Missouri Northern Pecan Growers
Expand All

Project Information


Missouri Northern Pecan Growers (MNPG) collects and markets Northern Native Pecans under the Missouri Northern Pecan brand name. MNPG is owned by five pecan producers located in Missouri and Kansas. In the fall of the year, MNPG purchases pecans from twenty-six growers located in Missouri, Kansas and Northern Oklahoma, for shelling and packaging. MNPG sells two types of pecans: Certified Organic and Pesticide-Free.

Most of MNPG’s growers have been providing pecans for several years. Pecan revenue is a supplemental income source for many of the farm families. 100% of the pecans are sourced from family farming operations, and the majority of these can be considered diversified operations.

Our producers harvest pecans from native pecan trees and are not considered “improved” through cultivation techniques. These native pecan tree stands grow naturally along watersheds and along the edge of fields. Other producers supplying MNPG have native pecan orchards that are planted using native seedlings.

Producers utilize sustainable production practices, either organic or pesticide-free. MNPG’s pesticide-free producers are not allowed to spray pesticides on the trees at any times. Organic producers must follow National Organic Program production protocols and are certified under a blanket certification with MNPG’s certifier, Indiana Certified Organic.


This project is a part of a long term vision of the Missouri Northern Pecan Growers. MNPG’s goal is to capture as much value from marketing highly differentiated pecans as possible. To do this, MNPG intends to develop a geographic indication for native northern pecans. Geographic indications have been shown in Europe to add significant value to a given production base, if fully developed across the value chain (Barham and Hinrichs, 2006). These indications help define the terroir, or soil, climate, and geographic conditions that make a product unique. Examples of GI’s include Parma Ham and Roquefort Cheese.

Project Objectives:

Developing a GI for Northern Pecans will do two things:
1. It will protect our company and individual producers’ intellectual property.
2. It will add significant value to our production base. As pecan growers, we are interested in capturing value not only over our own lifetime but over the lifetime of future generations.
This project is part of a multi-step process in developing a geographic indication. MNPG markets Northern Native Pecans. Funds were used to evaluate the pecans from our northern production base compared to cultivated southern pecans. This research will help us more clearly define the difference between “northern and southern” pecans, and more specifically define our geographical growing region.

Further, this study will provide genetic information for our pecan production region. This research may have long term implications for assessing the impact of climate change and other critical issues.


Materials and methods:

Background Research

Initially, Joe Wilson and Drew Kimmell, owners of MNPG, spent a considerable amount of time with Dr. Elizabeth Barham learning about the importance of geographic indications. Dr. Barham, a rural sociologist, has spent most of her research career working with GI’s in Europe and around the world. Dr. Barham is spearheading a project domestically which will hopefully lead to the development of domestic GI’s. Other producer groups involved in the project include the Kona Coffee Growers and Napa Valley Vineyards. From being involved with this project, MNPG has learned about the process of developing a GI. The first step in this process is to define the growing region.

Typically regions used in GI’s are defined based on topographical or cultural boundaries. MNPG sources pecans from the “Northern” pecan production region across a three state area: Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. Northern native pecans have different characteristics, including a smaller size, higher oil content and slightly sweeter flavor than southern pecans. These characteristics result in part from the climate. Temperatures in the continental climate of the central United States have cold winters that drop to -22*F and hot summers with temperatures as high as 100*F.

The objective of this research project is to determine if pecans in the northern growing region are genetically different from pecans grown in the southern region. Allison Miller, an ethonobotanist at St. Louis University was contacted to develop and coordinate the research project. One of Dr. Miller’s research focuses is native pecan trees.

Techniques Used

Population genetics was used to describe the genetic variation in C. illinoinensis populations from Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Population genetics is a sub-discipline within biology which describes the origin, amount, and distribution of genetic variation within populations of organisms.


Joe Wilson, his daughter Jesse, and two other producers collected samples. Samples had to be collected from the trees in the early spring shortly after they had begun to leaf out, when the DNA is more highly concentrated. Samples were collected from nine locations in Vernon and Linn County Missouri; Labette and Miami County, Kansas; and Craig, Mayes, Muskogee, McIntosh, Pittsburg and Atoka Counties in Oklahoma.

In each of the nine populations, leaves from twenty trees were collected and stored in silica gel and kept frozen. In all, 180 different samples were collected. The precise locality for each sample including coordinate, descriptors on the leaves, male flowers, female flowers, diameter at breast height, growth stage approximate tree age, and tree height were recorded. The collected samples were sent to Dr. Miller’s genetics laboratory at St. Louis University for analysis.

Locations were selected that went from North to South within the Northern pecan collection region.


DNA was extracted from the dried, frozen leaf material. Then, two different molecular genetics techniques were used to survey genetic variation within the samples.

The first technique, using data obtain through Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism (AFLP) analysis, indicated that the pecan populations had a high level of genetic variation. The nine populations sampled were found to be significantly genetically distinct from one another. However, there was no identified relationship between genetic distance and geographic distance. In other words, trees that were closer to one another geographically were not more similar to one another genetically.

The second technique, Microsatellite Analysis, was used to obtain genetic data. That data collection process had not been completed at the time of this writing because of equipment problems. An updated report will be filed once those results are obtained.


Joe Wilson, one of the founders of MNPG led this project. He coordinated the overall research program with Dr. Miller. Further, Wilson and his daughter Jesse, handled most of the sample collections. Other producers involved in the collection process included: Tom Circle, Labette Co., KS; Brad Carter - Miami Co., KS; Wayne Harth, Vernon Co., MO; Dale Warren, Linn Co., MO.

The genetic research on the project was completed by Dr. Allison Miller, of St. Louis University. Two graduate students and seven undergraduate students were trained in genomic analysis techniques as a result of this project.

The students were:
Carolina Romero-Hernanadez, Graduate Student,
Chrissy McAllister, Graduate Student,
Silvia Ardila, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2011)
Rory Arrigo, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2012)
Kyle Blacker, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2012)
Luke Gatta, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2013)
Huawei Han, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2011)
Shawn Sarmiento, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2013)
Tracy Zander, Undegraduate Student, (class of 2013)

Ann Wilkinson, Origin Farms, assisted with reporting and outreach components and is involved with the long-term GI project.

Research results and discussion:

The results indicated that there was significant genetic variation between the nine different populations that were sampled. Further, the results showed that there was no identified relationship between genetic distance and geographic distance. In other words, trees that were closer to one another geographically were not more similar to one another genetically.

Once all the data is collected using laboratory techniques, a final analysis will compare the variation between the 9 population samples and from southern populations of pecans.

Overall, this project has been an interesting learning experience which has moved forward our goal of establishing a GI for northern pecans. Although our results are not yet complete, progress has been made nevertheless. During the research period, we have gathered a great deal of specific information and learned a great deal about the population of northern pecan trees and the groves under study. In designing the protocol for the research study, we learned how seasonal timing must be taken into account in the sampling and collection process as well as what materials must be considered to provide a complete and accurate sample. Through our work with Dr. Miller’s lab, we have become familiar with DNA analysis technique and the lengthy steps that must be followed to produce accurate DNA data. We have also learned about the genetic information which already exists on pecan populations as a whole, and we have begun to infer how that information can assist us in the comparative studies we hope to be conducting in the future.

Implications of Genetic Variation Across Samples

One of the findings recorded thus far is that there is no relationship between genetic distance and geographic distance. In other words, trees that were closer to one another geographically are not more similar to one another genetically, and that in fact, pecan tree populations differ widely across fairly close geographic areas. This finding is consistent with other genetic research on pecan populations. It has significant implications for the protection of the domestic pecan tree population.

Genetic diversity across tree populations helps protect against devastation from disease. The American Chestnut was a dominant native tree in the eastern forests of North America until introduced diseases devastated the species. It is hoped that genetic diversity across the total pecan population will help protect our nation’s native pecan trees.

Protecting Our Native Resources

Pecans are the most economically important native nut tree in North America. It is estimated that in 2010, 259 million pounds of pecans were sold for $566 million. Of this, approximately 20% are considered native varieties. The U.S. is the world leader in pecan production, followed by Mexico. Pecans are also grown commercially in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Peru, and South Africa.

Protecting Our Nation’s Food Culture

Native pecans are important to our nation’s food culture. Pecans were used by the people living at Modoc Roc Shelter in Randolph County, Illinois, over 10,000 years ago. Pecans were discovered by early European explorers in the region including members of DeSoto’s expedition in the 1500’s. Pecans have been an important food source because of their storability and portability. Pecans store well without any special preparations. Unshelled pecans can be stored in a cool, dry place for up to a year. Pecans are a nutritious food for humans. One hundred grams of pecan nut meat has 9.5% crude protein, 73.7% fat and 12.7% carbohydrates. Further, they have a significant amount of essential fatty acids.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

1. Allison Miller is submitting an article for publication to American Journal of Botany
2. Ann Wilkinson is submitting an article to the Small Farmer’s Journal (Lynn Miller, editor).
3. Joe Wilson is presenting the results of this project at the Kansas Nut Growers association in February, 2012.

Other publication venues are being researched, and all publications will include acknowledgement of SARE support. We want to thank Joan Benjamin and SARE for support on this project.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.