Published on 09/09/96

As Farmers Pray for Rain, Pecan Growers Want Sun

Why is it that no matter what type of weather farmers get, it always seems the opposite of what they need at the time?

"Our crop looks strong right now, but we need a lot of sunshine for the nuts to fill out," said Tom Crocker, a pecan horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"We sure don't want a hurricane clouding over south Georgia," he said as the season for tropical storms entered its peak. "That would prevent the nut growth we need for a good crop."

Crocker pointed out the problem that would cause for pecan growers while recognizing peanut and cotton farmers' great need for the rain a tropical system might provide.

This year's pecan crop started a long time ago -- last fall, actually. After farmers harvested the 1995 crop, the trees set the buds that formed this year's nuts. The weather last October and November were nearly perfect, Crocker said, for a good crop this year.

The latest estimates place the Georgia crop at 115 million pounds. That's about 42 percent of the U.S. crop.

Georgia pecans are famous around the world. But most pecan lovers can't name a single variety. Pecans just aren't marketed that way. "We just sell them as 'pecans,'" Crocker said.

Through the spring, most pecan orchards got enough rain to produce nuts from those buds set last fall. "Some areas got more than enough rain," he said, "and nuts are splitting open.

The rain can create another problem for pecan farmers. "The water helped the trees produce large nuts," he said. "But now we need sunshine and more water for the trees to fill those nuts."

When rain becomes scarce in pecan orchards, most growers can create their own. Irrigation systems water more than 60 percent of the Georgia crop. That allows farmers to water when the crop needs it most.

But sunshine is a little harder to create.

"We're looking for bright, drier conditions now, when many other farmers want rain," Crocker said. "It's a difficult situation for farmers with pecans and other crops. They have to hope for rain or sun on specific acres."