Pecan harvest is either underway or almost underway in most nut producing states, including the top three producers, Georgia, Texas and New Mexico, just in time to meet the increasing demand for the holidays.
Industry experts say harvest estimates from earlier this year have risen, largely because of exceptional rains in the summer and fall across the Southwest and an exceptionally dry summer in Georgia—both of which have resulted in a better-than-expected haul of nuts. While Georgia's pecan crop was initially expected to be lower than normal after heavy rains last year that taxed the crop with disease problems, the unexpected dry weather this summer is credited with saving the current crop.
The exact opposite is the case for Texas and New Mexico growers who benefited from heavy rains in the summer and early fall that helped drought-stressed pecan groves to produce heavier than expected nut loads.
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Harvest has been underway for the last several weeks in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, where native varieties were the first to reach maturity. As harvest of native varieties begins to wrap up, harvesting larger, improved varieties gets underway, as early as this week.
Georgia is looking at a far better harvest than expected as a result of the dry summer, according to University of Georgia Extension horticulture specialist Lenny Wells.
A wet spring and increased scab disease pressure had Wells and other pecan experts pessimistic about this year’s pecan crop. However, a lack of rain in June and July spared Georgia’s pecan farmers from worsening scab disease. The result is a pecan crop that’s expected to reach 85 to 90 million pounds, Wells estimated.
While Georgia’s farmers are seeing more and better quality pecans this year because of their growing practices and the weather, Wells says they won’t see an increased profit.
“Commercial pecan prices started out okay, but the price has declined somewhat over the last few weeks. This has been a big disappointment for most growers,” he said.
In New Mexico, the yearly harvest in pecan-rich Doña Ana County benefited from a blast of winter weather last week. Cold weather helps to kill and dry leaves and prepares pecan trees for nut-picking. All of New Mexico's commercial pecans are of improved varieties and are expected to bring top prices from wholesalers.
This year is a so-called "off" year for the New Mexico's pecan crop, meaning fewer pecans will be produced than a year ago. The two-year cycle tends to yield an alternating light crop one year and a heavy crop the next. But in spite of this being an off-year, the latest total pecan harvest for the state is estimated to be about 65 million pecans, making New Mexico the second largest producer of pecans this year, behind the estimated 85 to 90 million pounds expected from Georgia.
Last year the average per-pound price to New Mexico, growers was $1.90 for in-shell pecans, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture numbers. That was higher than the national average of $1.73 per pound. But state pecan specialists expect slightly higher wholesale prices for growers this year.
Overall, Texas is expected to rate as the third largest pecan producing state this year with a total of about 55 million pounds of in-shell pecans harvested, mostly native varieties.
The latest USDA estimate for the national pecan harvest hovers around the 256-million pound mark, slightly more than last year’s harvest but below the seven-year average. But because of increased harvests in Georgia and New Mexico, some are predicting that number could rise to as high as 285 million pounds nationwide.
As far as consumer’s price, most agree it will be about the same as last fall because demand remains high for pecans, particularly in the international market.
“China remains our main export market and continues to drive the price of pecans,” Wells said. “The domestic market has had very little growth and by some accounts has remained flat or declined over the past few years, depending on the source of information. So the export market has truly given new life to the industry.”
Consumers in China seem to prefer larger nut varieties like Desirable, he said.
Pecan industry organizations are promoting pecans in other countries and regions like Canada, Europe, India, and the Middle East. Their goal is to keep the export demand high and not rely solely on one country to maintain that demand, according to Wells.