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Earlier this month, in conjunction with the UGA Extension pecan production meeting, attendees and growers were invited to take part in a pecan planting demonstration at Coffee High School. The purpose of the hands-on demonstration was to allow growers, attendees and students alike the opportunity to see how to properly plant a pecan tree and establish a pecan orchard. This opportunity allowed participants to gain knowledge and experience whether they are planting a couple of trees for backyard use or a commercial orchard.
The pecan educational plot is the third phase of the Coffee County Young Farmers educational plots on the campus of Coffee High School. This educational opportunity complements the existing blueberries, blackberries, muscadine grapes (Phase 1) and the satsuma plots (Phase 2).
With the rollout of academies at Coffee High School, the Ag Department and Young Farmer program wanted to expose students to real-world application of the skillsets and knowledge students would need to be successful in a variety of local ag careers.
“We come from a very rural and agricultural rich community.” states Spencer Highsmith, Young Farmer Advisor for Coffee County. “Despite this though, we still have students who are unaware of the career opportunities and the scope of the ag industry in our local community. Our goal through these educational plots is to help students apply the knowledge they learn in their plant and environmental science classes, apply it to the real world and ultimately find a local career utilizing these skills.”
Joshua Rogers’s Horticulture class got to take part in the demonstration with assistance and training from Andrew Sawyer, area pecan specialist. Students had the opportunity to trim the lateral roots of the bare-root trees to 6-8”, fill the hole with water to displace air pockets within the soil profile, plant the tree at the right depth and top it (cutting off the top 1⁄3) to ensure survivability. Sawyer stated, “Many problems growers have with establishing an orchard is planting their trees too deep. You really would like for the uppermost lateral root to be at surface level if not a little above, so as the tree settles for the first month it will be at right depth.”
The plots are not just for student educational opportunities. The purpose of the Georgia Young Farmers program is to keep adults engaged in continual learning to make their operations, whether backyard or commercial, sustainable and prosperous. Highsmith has plans to use the plot to teach adults layout and design of micro-jet irrigation systems as well as proper pruning techniques in the months and years to come.
Highsmith states, “Visiting many backyard growers I see a lot of mishaps that could have been avoided if proper pruning had occurred the first three years of the tree being planted. So our target audience for these educational objectives is not only students but adults alike.”
Highsmith chose to use low-input varieties — Excel, Lakota and Avalon — of pecan trees for the educational plot to showcase these newer varieties that are more scab resistant and require few, if any, fungicide applications to produce a crop. In his opinion this is the future of a profitable pecan enterprise in the south due to our more humid environment which is more susceptible to scab. The pollinators Highsmith chose were Caddo and Oconee. These varieties are more prone to acquiring scab but will further demonstrate the benefits of low-input varieties for students and growers alike.
The pecan plot is approximately one acre with 27 trees planted on 40’x40’ centers, to prolong the time before thinning out trees or having to hedge the trees, thus minimizing inputs and maximizing production. Highsmith definitely looks forward to the educational and field day opportunities this additional educational plot will provide for young farmer members, community members and students.
The pecan educational plot would not have been possible without sponsors. A special thank you goes to the Georgia Young Farmers Association, Clough Pecan Company of Blackshear and the Coffee County School System for sponsoring the plot. We’d also like to thank Andrew Sawyer - Area Pecan Specialist, Ashley Smith - Coffee ANR Agent, Madison Britt - Coffee 4-H Agent, Kevin Tatum and Scott Perkins for helping to finish planting the plot after the demonstration had concluded.
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