Back to August 2019

Georgia Pecan Industry Loses One of its Champions

Before I was hired as the Pecan Extension Specialist for the University of Georgia, I worked for about three years or so as the Extension Agent in Dougherty County, Georgia. It can be difficult for new agents to break the ice with farmers, especially pecan farmers, and especially in a county where, for many years, much of the previous agent’s time had been spent working with homeowners on primarily yard-based horticulture. My interest was always more with commercial agriculture than yards; so, in trying to meet growers, I just wandered aimlessly around the county trying to catch farmers at their orchards. Needless to say, I only found a few that way. But one day, not long after my arrival, a gentleman came into the office and introduced himself as Hilton Segler.

In a way, I owe my career as a pecan specialist partially to Hilton, along with other folks like Tom Crocker, Bill Goff, Bruce Wood, and a growing list of people too long to name, the more I think about it, who taught me about pecans. Hilton was the first person to take me around and introduce me to nearly every pecan grower around Albany, Georgia. That first year in Albany, we spent many days driving around visiting orchards in the area. Those days gave me a foot in the door, taught me about pecans from the growers’ perspective, and helped the growers open up to me, which led to my own pecan experience and being hired for the position I’ve held for the last 15 years. Through those years, I’ve worked closely with Hilton on many projects.

By now, most of you have heard of Hilton’s passing on July 4 of this year. Hilton’s contributions to the Georgia and U.S. pecan industry are too many to list here. He had a long career in the chemical industry working for Thompson Hayward Chemical, Griffin Chemical, and UPI through the years. He also was co-owner of NIPAN, LLC, the company that makes foliar Nickel products, and sold crop insurance for Andrew Avery Insurance Agency. Hilton also grew pecans himself through the years and served as a consultant for many growers.

Even with all these accomplishments, Hilton’s greatest contributions to the pecan industry originated with his two terms as President of the Georgia Pecan Growers Association (GPGA). He developed the GPGA into—in my opinion—the progressive leader of the U.S. pecan industry and testified three separate times before Congress on behalf of pecan growers. Were it not for Hilton’s determination and passion for the industry, we would likely not have pecan crop insurance, inclusion in the many U.S. Department of Agriculture’s conservation and emergency disaster programs, participation the USDA Market Access Program to aid in building the export market, and many other recent developments in the U.S. pecan industry, which have helped to legitimize pecans in the eyes of many who used to ignore or dismiss pecans as too minor a crop to matter.

Hilton ruffled feathers along the way, but he knew how to get things done and he always had the grower’s best interest at heart. It is a testament to his loyalty to pecan growers that many of his contributions to the pecan industry came at a time when he didn’t actively grow pecans himself and, to use one of his own terms, when he “didn’t have a dog in the fight.”

I remember years ago when Hilton attended every county production meeting we held across the state of Georgia, as soon as Will, Jason, and I were done with our presentations, Hilton would get up to speak on behalf of the GPGA. He would speak and speak and speak for quite a while. It is usually all most folks can do to listen to Jason Brock, Will Hudson, and me; so eyes would roll and everyone was ready to go home by the end. But Hilton’s lengthy speeches had a purpose, which was to take this industry to where it is today. Thanks to Hilton, we now have a voice.

Hilton would always begin these speeches by saying “I know most of you out there, most of you know me, but if you don’t you’ve probably heard of me.” Since we have so many new people in the industry now, there may be some people out there who do not know of Hilton Segler. But you should.

Hilton, we thank you for your service to the pecan industry. You will be missed.

Author Photo

Lenny Wells

Lenny Wells is an Extension Pecan Specialist, University of Georgia, Tifton, Georgia.