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Pecan crop holds steady amid drought

Production falls short of last season in the West, but crops in Georgia are abundant.

Lee Allen

November 17, 2022

3 Min Read
TNFP1117-ARS-pecans.jpg
Lack of water availability in the West is complicating pecan production.USDA ARS

Those who grow America’s tree nuts are, for the most part, wrapping up their 2022 season and rolling the shakers back into the barn.

Now comes end-of-season clean-up along with reflections of the year past and contemplation of what lies ahead. One of those doing so is Phillip Arnold of Las Cruces, N.M., immediate past president of the Western Pecan Growers Association.

Still active in the industry as overseer of Arnold Bros. Farms, some 365 acres of Western blend in the Mesilla Valley, here is his status report:

“Pecans came off a very large crop last year, probably in excess of a hundred million pounds, the biggest crop we’ve ever produced. I think this year we’ll probably come in shorter, but in the range of 75 million pounds. Crop this year is definitely lighter with other ‘off’ reports like Arizona’s expectations of 33 million pounds and California’s estimate of 6 million. West Texas will probably be a little better than what they made last year, but the rest of Texas is going to be way off because of their bad drought conditions.”

Arnold added: “A large crop is expected out of Georgia this year where they expect to produce 150-180 million pounds and there should be something like that, maybe 140-150 million, out of West Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.”

Like all other growers of food products throughout the geographic sector, Arnold worries about water in the West. “I don’t know that we’re getting to where the limits of our water are, but it’s becoming a bigger factor for growers. There would probably be a lot more pecans planted in the western United States if water sources were more reliable. Fellow growers in California have told me if they didn’t get some relief in their snowpacks over the foreseeable future, potentially a quarter of the state’s agricultural land could be fallowed out.”

As a nut grower who has a boots-on-the-ground outlook, Arnold especially sympathizes with walnut growers and their tough year. “Walnuts have really been affected. Because of a backlog of containers for international shipping, there’s a backlog in inventory and that’s adversely affected pricing down below $1.50 a case and that’s cheap, cheap, cheap.”

Cautiously optimistic

He remains cautiously optimistic in his area pecan market outlook. “We’re having a pretty good-sized crop, particularly here in New Mexico, and I think most growers did decent despite weather problems and pricing. This year, yield won’t be as good and the inflation factor is going to spill over into our pecan marketing efforts. We’re not as big a commodity, tonnage-wise, as almonds, but our consumption factor has stayed fairly decent as have prices.”

Assuming that drought and water limitations will be a continuing part of pecan growers lives going into the 2023 season, he says: “There’s a possibility we’ll get some better monsoon moisture next year after a wet fall in New Mexico this year and last, so we’re a bit better off than we have been previously."

But in the long term, we need a lot more snow pack throughout the Western States agricultural areas. “If you grow tree crops and don’t water the trees, they’re not going to live or they’ll be damaged to the point where you can’t produce enough pecan poundage to keep you in business. It’s a worry for sure.”

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