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Pecan6.jpg Brad Haire

Tough timing on pecan water as drought intensified

As fall covers the region and pecan growers prepare orchards for harvest, they usually can cut back on watering. Not this year.

Drought hammered much of the Southeast this year, and Georgia pecan growers had to face tough decisions on late-season water and timing.

In a Sept. 24 blog post, Dr. Lenny Wells, University of Georgia Extension pecan specialists, urged growers not to turn off irrigation too soon under this year’s drought conditions, even as harvest neared. The region received little to no rain the weeks following the post.

As fall covers the region and growers prepare orchards for harvest, they usually can cut back on watering. Not this year.

“The problem is that we are in a severe drought, which makes it very risky to stop irrigating, especially if you have a crop load on the tree. If you are not irrigating enough at this point you likely see some yellowing of the leaves and some leaf drop,” he says.

For young, nonbearing trees, he tells growers to continue to irrigate on a normal schedule, or 100 gallons per week, until they get a 1-inch rain.

“At that point you should be able to turn off the water for the season.  If the drought continues long term, continue to irrigate until the leaves drop naturally,” he says.

As October began, it was still critical for growers to continue irrigating crop-bearing trees. 

“If you turn off the water too soon at this stage under the conditions we currently have you will likely see significant shuck decline, stick-tights, and loss of quality,” he says. “The nuts are still maturing on most varieties even though the kernels have filled and the process of shuck dehiscence (opening of the shucks) requires good soil moisture.”

For crop-bearing trees, he recommended continued irrigation at 50 percent to 60 percent of full capacity up until one week before the grower plannned to shake trees for harvest.

If a grower gets a one-inch rain, he says the system can be turned off for three days and then resume irrigation until the leaves drop or until another good rain event.

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