North Alabama, in particular the Tennessee Valley region, is primarily an agronomic crop production area. Commodities such as corn, wheat, and soybeans are important to the area and it is home to virtually all of the states’ commercial apple production. While it is a great area for many crops, many pecan cultivars are not suitable for the area.
Alabama’s current commercial pecan production is restricted mainly to the Gulf Coast and the lower third of the state. Land developers planted orchards in the southeastern portion of the state in the early 1900s and marketed these to small farm families. Many of these orchards still exist today and a few are still in production. A small remnant population of native pecan trees remain in west central Alabama. Most of these trees are along flood plains and in the Black Belt prairie west of Selma.
Challenges for North Alabama
Most of the existing pecan trees in north Alabama were planted between the 1940s and 1970s. The trees consist mainly of seedlings and cultivars most popular during that time period. Stuart cultivars were extremely popular at that time and some home orchards growing these cultivars still occasionally have a decent crop in mild scab years. Unfortunately, Stuart is extremely attractive to the pecan phylloxera. These and other pests, such as pecan weevils, have become serious pests for home growers.
Pecan scab is a challenging disease for pecan production in north Alabama. Susceptible cultivars require regular fungicide sprays to control this disease. It seems that when fungicides are applied, the disease is somewhat easier to control. However, as trees get larger and the tree canopy becomes denser, diseases are more difficult to control.
There is currently no formal pecan research projects in north Alabama. When available, Extension professionals are collecting and observing a number of new cultivars and promising seedling cultivars in various locations in the region. They also continue to work with commercial and home growers in the area and in Tennessee.
With the introduction and availability of earlier maturing pecan cultivars, pecans may become a more attractive option for some dedicated growers in more northern or non-traditional growing regions. North Alabama has abundant water resources, suitable soils, and a proper climate for growing these new cultivars. However, the limiting factor in the area is land availability. Current cash rent for cropland ranges from $90 to $175 per acre. Competition from urban development is also a factor. Nevertheless, several new commercial orchards are being established in North Alabama.