Published on 09/27/05

Georgia growers eyeing nation's top pecan harvest

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Georgia's pecan crop looks good. The state should be the top producer in the country this year, says a University of Georgia specialist.

"The quality of the pecans should be good, and I expect we'll have much more than last year," said Lenny Wells, the UGA Cooperative Extension state pecan horticulturist.

Georgia pecan growers should produce an average crop of about 95 million pounds this year, about twice as much as last year's near-record low, he said.

In recent years, Georgia and Texas have vied for the top pecan- producing state title. Texas won out in 2003. But this year, Texas is expected to produce around 65 million to 70 million pounds, almost twice as much as last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release official pecan production estimates later next month.

Georgia was on track to have a much better crop this year, Wells said, around 110 million pounds. But a large pecan "drop" in June, something the trees naturally do to produce better, larger nuts, reduced expectations.

Also, a nasty disease called scab has hit the crop hard this year. Caused by the fungus Cladosporium caryigenum, it attacks young leaves in spring and nut shucks in the summer. Left untreated, it can wipe out a tree's nuts.

Growers usually spray around eight times each year for this disease. Because of Georgia's wet summer, most growers have sprayed more than a dozen times this year, Wells said.

The rain shut off in September. This could hurt pecan orchards that aren't irrigated, he said, reducing quantity and quality. Of 140,000 acres of pecans in the state, about half are irrigated.

Four tropical storms last fall knocked a lot of Georgia pecans to the ground and contributed to the low production. Last year was already going to be an "off" year. Pecan, hickory and walnut trees normally produce a strong crop every other year.

Statewide conditions such as cloudy or sunny summers put most trees on the same cycle. This year should be an "on" year for Georgia pecan trees.

"We should harvest a good crop if we don't get any hurricanes between now and the end of harvest," Wells said. Georgia's harvest usually starts around the end of October and runs through November. Due to a cool spring, this year's crop is about 10 days late.

Because of the low production last year, Georgia growers got an average of $1.67 per pound, a record price. Prices at grocery stores were higher, too. Shelled pecan halves sold for more than $7 per pound, $1.50 more than the previous year.

It's too early to say what shoppers can expect to pay for fresh pecans this holiday season. But a normal crop like this year generally leads to normal prices at stores.

Hurricane Katrina damaged pecan production in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana earlier this month. This will reduce the country's overall supply, Wells said. Georgia growers will probably see good prices early in the harvest, but with the large crop, prices won't be near last year's record.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.