LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KTSM) – New Mexico State University is leading a multistate research project designed to figure out how to keep pecans from becoming inedible and unsellable.

A condition known as vivipary, or the premature germination of nuts on trees, has resulted in some regions in Mexico losing up to 40-percent of their harvest.

That problem appears to be spreading to Texas and New Mexico, causing concern for pecan producers and consumers across the United States.

Part of the research project is dedicated to figuring out which particular trees are best suited to each region today and how that could change over the next several decades.

The head of the project is NMSU’s Jennifer Randall, a plant molecular biologist and pathologist. She recently received a $3.9 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to fund the research for at least the next few years.

“Pecan has a native region that spans from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Illinois, which is a huge geographical range with many different climates,” Randall said. “Our goal is to have trees that are best-suited for their regional areas and figure out not just what would be great to grow in specific areas today, but 50 years from now under climate change.”

Researchers will analyze pecan DNA to look for “genetic mismatches” that could potentially be leading to issues like vivipary.

“These data will allow the development of vital genetic tools necessary for increasing our understanding of regional adaptation, promoting resource conservation, and selecting improved cultivars/rootstocks for all major pecan regions,” said Randall.

The team has thus far set up research zones in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and California to ensure they are getting data from various climate regions.

Currently, it takes up to 30 years for a new pecan variety to become available to the public, but researchers are optimistic this study could help speed up that process.

“What we’re doing is figuring out the genetics that control traits, so we can reduce the amount of work and time,” she said. “We’ll be able to track the genes in the new progeny without having to wait 20 or 30 years.”