Uncracking the History of Pecans:The New Mexico Story
Welcome to the second edition of “Uncracking the History of Pecans”, our newest blog series where we take a deep dive into the roots of our favorite nuts and see where it all began. While us locals know the popularity of pecans in New Mexico is strong and present across the state, many outsiders are unfamiliar with our story. And, despite the fact that we were the top pecan-producing state in the U.S. in 2019, many don’t even know that New Mexico is home to pecan orchards at all! It’s time to set the record straight and take a trip back in time to where it all began in the Enchantment State.
Humble roots: 1900 – 1932
The reason that many may not initially picture pecans in New Mexico is probably due to their native history. The pecan, or Carya illinoinensis, is mostly native to the Mississippi River Valley and Northern Mexico, with its first sightings in the 16th century by Spanish settlers in the areas now known as Texas and Louisiana. From the 16th century to the 20th, pecans grew in popularity, spreading in interest for both business owners and consumers alike. This is where the New Mexico story begins.
While we can’t trace the history of pecans in New Mexico specifically due to a brief record, historical experts at NMSU speculate that pecan nuts “probably first arrived in New Mexico along with American settlers around the turn of the 20th century.” Digging deeper, these experts explain that while there were a few trees shown to produce seedling-type pecan nuts in southern New Mexico, there is evidence to prove that some of these trees were brought to the area from central Texas and north-central Mexico in the late 1800s or early 1900s.
One person who was known to spread the pecan nut to the Enchantment State was Fabian Garcia, the first director of the New Mexico Agricultural Experiment Station. In 1913, he planted some of the first pecan trees in New Mexico, with many still standing at New Mexico State University’s Fabian Garcia Horticultural Science Center. At the time of planting, the four-acre planting was the largest pecan planting in New Mexico. This groundbreaking endeavor would pave the way to the first historic commercial planting of pecans in New Mexico by our very own W.J. Stahmann.
Commercial roots: 1932 -1960
From 1900 to 1932, interest in pecans in New Mexico weaned. Due to the lower economic status of many U.S. citizens, a pound of pecans cost the average worker 2 hours worth of their pay, while today, a worker can buy approximately 3 lbs of pecans for an hour’s worth of pay. In these trying times, the future of pecans in New Mexico was unclear—until a little family with an entrepreneurial spirit cleared things up.
Beginning in 1932, our very own W.J. and Deanne F. Stahmann, the original father-son founders of Stahmanns Farms, planted the first commercial batch of pecan trees in New Mexico. Considered by experts to be the first large-scale planting of pecans in New Mexico, this 30-acre planting was made at our first location, the Snow Ranch, in 1934 and 1935. As the study, ‘Historical Background of Pecan Plantings in the Western Region’ by NMSU experts details, W.J. planted ‘Western’ variety trees with ‘Burkett’ as the pollinator. He also planted many rare ‘Bradley’ trees along the Rio Grande River, only a few miles from Fabian Garcia’s original planting. Fun fact: our panoramic 3,200-acre pecan orchard was actually land that was cleared and leveled for planting following this initial innovation on the Snow Ranch by the original Stahmanns.
Following this initial foray, other smaller-scale plantings were conducted by other growers in southern Doña Ana County and in the Rio Grande Valley below El Paso, TX.
Widespread roots: 1960 – today
While many showed early interest in joining the pecan industry following the Stahmanns’ pioneer planting, it took another 30 years before other growers began producing pecans in New Mexico at noteworthy levels. Once growers saw the economic value that Stahmanns Pecans provided to local citizens and businesses, they realized the potential that lay ahead, and so began widespread pecan production in New Mexico in the 1960s.
Today, small pecan orchards are found in Quay, Curry, De Baca and Valencia Counties, but the New Mexico pecan industry is still largely focused in our southern counties. 70% of the New Mexico industry acreage is in the Mesilla Valley (Dona Ana County), while 20% of the acreage is in the Pecos River Valley (in Chaves and Eddy Counties) and 5% in the Tularosa Basin (in Otero County). Luna, Sierra, Lea and Roosevelt Counties also have small areas planted with pecan trees.
We are proud of the place in history that Stahmanns holds, and are even more proud that New Mexico holds such a place as well. We honor and respect our fellow New Mexico pecan growers who continue to keep our tradition alive throughout the state, and can’t wait to see where the future takes us.
Taste a piece of history with Stahmanns Pecans
If your business is seeking a fresh crunch of flavor backed by a time-tested reputation, you’ve found it. Contact our team today to upgrade your product, maximize your bottom line, and exceed the possibilities with Stahmanns commercial pecans in New Mexico.