Defining Our Production Region
Missouri Northern Pecans are unique. They are from native plant varieties that have not been hybridized. Further, the pecans are produced in the Northern most growing regions for native pecans. The combination of native seed stock and a shorter growing season results in smaller, sweeter, nuts. Further, Missouri Northern Pecan Growers (MNPG) uses proprietary handling of their nuts. They are collected in the late fall, and then placed in cold storage in the shell. Just prior to shipping, the nuts are shelled and packaged. The combination of native varieties, the shortened Northern growing season, and special handling gives these nuts a distinctive sweeter flavor and very satisfactory mouth feel.
MNPG launched their shelled and packaged nuts in 2000, with first year sales of less than $10,000. The business grew. In 2003, MNPG launched their first “Certified Organic” pecans. Since then, the farmer-owned company has experienced tremendous growth. With growth, came competition both from domestic and international sources. MNPG began exploring ways to enhance their brand, secure their market, and protect the livelihood of the family farmers that they source nuts from. Developing a placed-based marketing strategy seemed like the best opportunity.
Missouri Northern Pecan Growers intends to develop a Geographic Indication for Northern Native Pecans. Geographic Indications (GI’s) have most prevalently been used in Europe in the food and wine industries. Better known GI’s include Parma Ham, Roquefort Cheese, and Champagne. The products are sourced from a given region, and have well defined quality attributes. MNPG is working with Elizabeth Barham, Ph.D. a world renowned expert on Geographic Indications, on a long-term strategy for developing a GI specific to Northern Native Pecans.
Dr. Barham, University of Arkansas, is developing groups of grower participants and professionals who are dedicated to the development of American Origin Products in the United States. Kona Coffee Growers, Napa Valley Wine, and Missouri Northern Pecan Growers are participants in this effort.
GI’s are an important rural development strategy for U.S. specialty products. Our vision is to use the research in this project as a pilot project for other grower groups wishing to pursue the development of GI’s. Further, we hope that SARE, USDA Rural Development, and other policy making bodies, realize the long-term economic and cultural benefit of development of GI’s in the United States. If implemented, GI’s can preserve and enhance our nation’s food culture and revitalize rural economies.
One of the first steps in developing a GI is clearly delineating the region of origin. These borders are not necessarily based on geo-political boundaries — such as state lines, but more frequently reference topographic and climatic regions.
MNPG is using SARE grant funds to define the growing region for Northern Native Pecans. In order to brand and trademark “Northern Pecans” a clear distinction needs to be made between “Northern Native Pecans” and other native pecan varieties.
Currently, MNPG collects pecans from growers in Missouri, Kansas, and Northern Oklahoma. Our hypothesis is that pecans from Southern Oklahoma are larger, and are closer genetically to “Southern Varieties” of Native Pecans. The research in this project will delineate the “Northern” growing region. A clear definition of the growing region will strengthen the overall “Northern Pecan” brand.
Allison Miller, Ph.D. an ethnobotanist on the faculty at St. Louis University is carrying out research to define the growing region for Northern Native Pecans. Dr. Miller’s academic research is dedicated to pecans, and focuses on the geographic movement of native pecan varieties over time. She has done significant genomic-based research on the pecan.
This research for this SARE project will utilize a combination of DNA and sampling analysis to develop genomic profiles for native pecans from different groves in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Using information from DNA analysis, we will be able to define the “Northern Native” growing region.
Research on genomic based geographic mapping of native plants may have long-term implications for determining the impact of climate change.
Research on this project has been in the planning phase, due to the growing season and timing of available funds. But things are about to change.
Where will samples be collected from?
In the next six weeks, from March 15 to April 30, Joe Wilson is going to collect DNA samples from over eight different pecan groves. Pecans will be collected from more northern Missouri groves, and then from groves to the South. Samples will be taken from groves in a linear pattern, moving from North to South. Samples will be taken every forty or fifty miles.
Why did you wait so long to collect the DNA samples?
Collecting DNA from pecan groves is a bit complicated. DNA is most concentrated in emerging or new leaf material on the pecan branches. So, we have had to wait until spring when the pecan tree leafs out to collect the DNA from the designated groves.
What is the procedure for collecting the samples?
Joe Wilson will visit each grove and pull 2 to 3 leaves off each tree. These will be placed in individual sample bags with silica crystals and labeled. Samples will be taken from 20 trees per grove. The location of the sample will be taken using a GPS device. The longitude and latitude of each sample will be recorded. Digital pictures will be taken of the tree.
What is the next step?
After the samples are collected, they will be mailed to Dr. Miller. There she will use DNA analysis to analyze the genetic properties of the sample. Information from the samples will be combined with information from previously collected DNA samples from Missouri. Further, the information will be compared to pecan populations collected in the USDA Pecan and Hickory Germplasm Reserve (College Station, TX).
This information will be used to delineate the Northern growing region for native pecans.
The DNA analysis and mapping will be completed by August, 2010.
WORK PLAN FOR 2010
Once the pecan DNA is collected, Allison Miller and her lab students will analyze the DNA. After the analysis is completed, a map will be made of the Northern pecan growing region.
This project is cutting edge. Ann Wilkinson will issue a press packet in May, after the samples have been collected.
The packet will:
– Describe the overall research project, and give significant recognition to SARE.
– Include pictures of pecans being collected by Joe Wilson and his daughter.
– Feature laboratory pictures of Dr. Miller and her students at St. Louis University.
– Describe the importance of delineating food from a specific region in the context of developing a pilot Geographic Indication in the United States.
– Describe the importance of developing place-based marketing programs as a means of economic development in rural areas, and improving returns to farmers of niche products.
We intend to actively pursue feature articles in regional print publications. Print publications will include producer-based publications, such as the Missouri Farmers Union newsletter. We will also try and place articles in regional sustainable magazines. We will work with Jill Wendohlt Silva at the Kansas City Star, and feature writers at the River Front Times.