Published on 08/26/10

Georgia pecan, tobacco farmers eye unexpectedly good crops

By Brad Haire

Georgia’s tobacco and pecan crop are on pace for a surprisingly good year. Not surprisingly, though, above-normal temperatures have smothered the state and taken a toll on some row crops, like peanut and cotton.

Pecan trees are alternate-bearing, meaning they produce a full crop every other year. Most trees in Georgia are on the same cycle, and this was supposed to be an “off” year for pecan production. But it isn’t looking like it, said Lenny Wells, a pecan specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

“I’m really surprised. This is the best off year in a long time,” he said.

Last year, Georgia farmers harvested 90 million pounds of pecans, a good crop for an “on” year. This off year, they’ll likely produce between 75 million and 80 million pounds, double what has been produced in other off years. The reason why isn’t clear, Wells said. Favorable spring and summer weather mixed with intense management by farmers to control diseases and insects kept trees stress-free. The colder-than-normal winter may have helped, too.

Harvest on Georgia’s 140,000 acres of pecan orchards, mostly in southwest Georgia, will start later this fall.

Changes in the way farmers market tobacco coupled with disease outbreaks have drastically reduced Georgia tobacco production in recent years. A decade ago, the state had 1,000 tobacco farmers. Less than a quarter of them remain today. But the crop turned a corner this year, said Fred Wetherington, a tobacco farmer in Lowndes County near the Florida line. Weather was good, and disease damage was minimal.

“We got the best looking crop we’ve had in 15 years or so,” Wetherington said.

Farmers planted between 10,000 and 11,000 acres this spring. Harvest is half complete.

Spring and early summer weather treated newly planted peanut and cotton plants well. But above-normal temperatures, some reaching over 100 degrees in some place, have since rocked the crops.

Last year, Georgia farmers harvested an average of 900 pounds of cotton per acre, a new state record. Records likely won’t be broken this year, said Phillip Roberts, a cotton entomologist with UGA Extension. Some areas are in mild drought. This coupled with the heat will hamper yield potential.

“The cotton crop as a whole is variable across the state, which is typical for Georgia. But we’re probably looking at more of an average crop this year compared to last,” Roberts said. “But we still have a long way to go with this crop.”

Farmers planted an estimated 1.24 million acres in Georgia this year, 25 percent more than last year, according to a recent report by the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. Average yields are expected to be around 850 pounds per acre, but this could be optimistic, Roberts said. Harvest will start later this fall.

The extreme heat in July and early August hurt peanut plants’ ability to set peanut pods, which grow under ground, said John Beasley, a peanut agronomist with UGA Extension. But relatively cooler temperatures in the lower 90s are helping the crop recover.

Peanut farmers last year also set an average yield record for the state at 3,530 pounds per acre. It will be tough now, Beasley said, for any yield records to be broken this year, but the potential for a good crop is still there. The average yield is now expected to be 3,300 pounds per acre, or 7 percent less than last year.

Farmers planted an estimated 550,000 acres of peanuts in late spring. Harvest will start later next month.

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

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