The Georgia Pecan Commission recently established the Center for Pecan Innovation, charged with finding new uses for “America’s Nut.”

“Our initial focus will be new food products made from pecans, which is one of the most nutritious tree nuts,” says John Robison, the commission’s chairman. “The recent 30-year study from Harvard University showing that regular nut eaters were less likely to die of cancer or heart disease is just one more supporting voice to the center, which was established to encourage more companies to find ways to use pecans in their products.”

Robison’s family-owned Robison Farms in Ailey, Ga., still harvest pecan orchards planted in the 1920s by his grandfather. He says the commission is working with food development scientists at the University of Georgia to create new pecan products for the American market and plans to coordinate with food companies who are interested in developing new uses for pecan pieces, oil and meal.

“In 2012, Georgia led the nation in pecan production, harvesting 100 million pounds for the domestic and global markets,” says Robison. “China is one of the biggest markets for our in-shell pecans, but there still is tremendous opportunity for companies to use pecan pieces – even the shells.  The Center for Pecan Innovation will work to develop new products that use Georgia pecans.”

Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black says the Georgia Pecan Commission is taking a creative approach to agriculture by establishing the center.

“Farmers today do far more than just grow food and fiber,” he says. “They take an active part in promoting their crops to grow their markets, as we have done with our Georgia Grown program. The Center for Pecan Innovation is yet another step to increase awareness for Georgia pecans.”

The commission sees tremendous opportunities for biodegradable pecan shells, from roadbeds and packing material to bath products. Cosmetic companies are looking for natural products to replace plastic micro-beads in facial cleansers, and the Journal of Food Science reports that a new study shows that extract from pecan shells may be effective at protecting meats such as chicken from listeria growth.

“We are very excited about this opportunity for Georgia pecans,” Robison said. “We are reaching out to companies to see how we as growers can help them, and we are encouraging our growers to plant more trees to meet the growing market. We love pecan pies, but there is much more to pecans than pies.

Get more information about the new center.