Even though I get great joy from watching young pecan trees grow and then set their first crop of nuts, the real reason I invested time and money in a pecan orchard is to produce pecan kernels for sale to the public. And the public has high expectations for pecan kernel quality. One of the reasons I've come to appreciate the Kanza pecan cultivar is that it always seems to produce a plump, light-colored, kernel (photo at right). However, there are pecan cultivars that produce such unattractive kernels it makes selling those nuts difficult. Let me show you a few examples.
Witte ripens very early and produces a good sized nut. What looks to be an outstanding northern pecan cultivar on paper is nearly impossible to sell to the pecan consuming public. Witte kernels are always deeply wrinkled giving the nut a shriveled appearance. The kernel also darkens quickly (not shown here). If a pecan kernel is unattractive, the consumer will never place a nut in his mouth. Flavor, no matter how outstanding, will always be a secondary cultivar attribute to most consumers.
Mandan, a cultivar released in 2009, is a pecan that was promoted as early ripening and having high nut quality kernels. Mandan produces pecans with high percent kernel but those kernels are ugly. The nuts appear wrinkled with the underside of the kernel half sunken and hollow-looking (photo at right, blue arrow). On the tip of the kernel, an extra flap of skin looks unsightly (red arrow). For a cultivar that produces nearly 60% kernel, Mandan nut meats always look shriveled and unappealing.
A different kind of ugly kernel comes in the form of mottled or blotchy kernels (photo at left). The degree of blotching seems to vary with the year. Pawnee, Faith, Gardner, Jayhawk and Giles are most prone to develop a mottled kernel color. Even though Pawnee has become one of our most desirable cultivars because of its large nut size and early ripening, I'm starting to limit its propagation on my farm. Between scab susceptibility and blotchy kernels, the risks associated with growing additional Pawnee trees have become too great for me.